The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C Carleson

17910573The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C Carleson
PublisherKnopf Books for Young Readers
Length304 pages
Genera: Realistic Contemporary
Subjects: Royalty, Self Discovery, Religion
How I obtained the bookNetgalley; e-arc


From a former CIA officer comes the riveting account of a royal Middle Eastern family exiled to the American suburbs.
When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations? J.C. Carleson delivers a fascinating account of a girl—and a country—on the brink, and a rare glimpse at the personal side of international politics.

I was more than a bit apprehensive about The Tyrant’s Daughter at first. While the synopsis sounded great, numerous warning flags popped up in my head. Not only was the subject matter was hard to pull off, but at the end of the day, J. C. Carleson was still a white, American author – no matter how extensively they’d traveled – and the book was about Muslim nonwhite royalty. Considering my last encounter with YA books concerning Muslim teenagers, I was cautious with the book.

Thankfully, Carleson very much exceeded my expectations for the novel. Laila’s story is an extraordinary one. After her father was killed in a coup, Laila is relocated to the US along with her brother and mother. The Tyrant’s Daughter chronicles Laila’s adjustment to American high school life while having to deal with her family – including her brother’s irritatingly carefree demeanor.

J.C. Carleson’s biggest strength is in her empathetic writing. While it was clean and minimalistic, it conveyed the intensity of the events with depth. It was abounding with a sense of desperate longing for her home, her old life and uncertainty.

Laila was an incredibly realistic protagonist. Flawed, yet ultimately relatable, Laila’s plights became ours as we read. Her selfish, haughty tone mask deep insecurities, as she struggles to accept her current way of life as a reality. Beautifully crafted, Laila is easily one of my favorite protagonists in a long time.

While I enjoyed the characterizations of Laila’s people – her family and the other families from her home, I felt that the American characters were severely lacking and one dimensional. Even Laila’s American friends such as Emmy and Ian were missing the spark that the other characters had. I couldn’t like either of them because they were just too cardboard for my liking.

The story of The Tyrant’s Daughter was engaging and eye-opening. Laila’s whole life was turned upside down when she and her family are rushed out of their country. They are forced to exchange a life of decadence and opulence for a dingy little apartment and financial insecurity. Her struggles were human, and I felt deeply for her.

At the end of the day, the book was mainly about Laila trying to come to terms with who and what her father was and how her perfect family wasn’t as pretty as she wanted it to be. It’s also about Laila’s journey of self-discovery. The ‘love triangle’ (a term I use loosely) was less between two boys and more of an internal strife between two parts of herself.

Laila’s story was amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed it. While it wasn’t perfect, it was really good and I wholeheartedly recommend it to people looking for a deep book about family, love, and finding the true ‘you’.


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