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The Tyrant's Daughter

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The 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?

304 pages, Hardcover

First published February 11, 2014

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About the author

J.C. Carleson

4 books71 followers
J.C. Carleson never intended to be an author. Although she was always a proficient writer of term papers, reports, and other necessary but mundane documents, she didn't consider herself cut out for the creative life.

Nearly a decade as an officer in the CIA's clandestine service changed that.

With her head now brimming with stories of intrigue, scandal, and exotic locales, Carleson was finally ready to give writing a shot. Her fiction and non-fiction works alike tap into her unique experiences, drawing readers into the highly charged, real world of espionage.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 825 reviews
Profile Image for Ash Wednesday.
441 reviews525 followers
February 11, 2014
02.11.14: THIS IS OUT TODAY!!!
I don't usually do this but it was such a lovely story not to be read. Goooooo!!!

Years are lifetimes in my world.

I read this book in a day, with one pit stop to the bathroom. I think I set this aside for 5 minutes when I reached the halfway mark when I noticed I was reading it WAY too fast. To say I was surprised given the weight and my unfamiliarity with the subject matter, is pretty much low-balling it. 

I'm also sure getting selected to receive an ARC of this from NetGalley is a glitch in the matrix seeing as I'm probably the least world politics conscious person I know. I tuned in to CNN for an entire day one time (it was the only English speaking channel on the crappy hotel's TV) and I remember wanting to stay in bed, feeling small and futile in the enormity of an uncaring, random world. Living the day-to-day is hard enough, poking your head around the bigger picture is just overwhelming. That's pretty much the best argument in choosing fantasy, fluff and fiction. Reality, the bigger reality, is a pervasive threat waiting to overwhelm and debunk everything that you do soon as you acknowledge its presence. A struggle for your struggle to struggle against. It doesn't mean one should ignore it, but in a certain mindset it can consume and depress.

The Tyrant's Daughter can make you feel all and none of that.

Laila has just come to America with her brother Bastien, and her mother, from an unnamed Middle Eastern country where her father was assassinated in a coup organized by his brother. Her father was a king. Or so she was told. Which makes her brother a six-year old King of Nowhere and her a fifteen-year old Invisible Queen, exiled and penniless in the Land of the Free.

As she strives to fit in her school with new found friends operating in a set of rules different from the ones she grew up in, she starts to learn about her past through the eyes of the rest of the world. She discovers the truth about her family while she grows conflicted about her new "home", it's strange culture and belief system that sends her to question her own.
College loans and Happy Meals. Disneyland. Free refills. Boys like Ian, with dazzling eyes and kind, good hearts. Librarians with arms full of books for the taking, and shiny plastic jewels. Picnics in the park. Lucky Charms.

So much happy artifice. Such fanciful illusions.

She struggles to reconcile this neon-bright promise of a future with coming to terms with the past she can't seem to let go. Or won't let HER go as she watches a variety of strange, sinister men come and go in their quaint and cramped Washington apartment. A man in a suit and tie who escorted them out of their palace and into America, surly men from their country and a surlier scarred boy, Amir, who watches her in school. In the middle of it all is her mother, with her secrets, her clandestine phone calls back home, her empty whiskey bottles and her intentions. Of which Laila has just recently learned, along with the truth about their family, she isn't privy to.

This is the story of how she became an Invisible Queen from being an Invisible Queen.

It's always the complex, multi-layered and textured stories that are the hardest to review. Like those matryoshka dolls where it's never really just one doll, this really wasn't just one story and Carleson did an excellent job tying them into a neat and layered little package. I want to label it a deeply feminist story (and to an extent it really is) but I think it's a humanist examination of the complexity of world politics first and foremost. It places the pawns, the players and the puppeteers of these global games in situations outside war rooms and international conferences. Carleson mashes that petri dish with the petri dish of the mundane and the day-to-day, portraying a dictator as a father and a husband without whitewashing his faults was pretty impressive but the depiction of his wife as a mother, his teenage daughter as a teenager reconciling freedom, hormones and her own personal values and so on was a perspective that resonates without being propaganda preachy.
Talking about my world, seeing it distorted, fun-house-mirror reflection in the eyes of these American acquaintances, is okay. Their perspective is not mine, and my reality is not theirs. But somewhere our differences is a shared space where we are friends.

The beautiful and heartfelt honesty reflected in Laila's character couldn't have been delivered any more poignantly. She was such a harrowing and thought-provoking narrator, avoiding the usual pitfalls of flashy manipulative tearjerker lines and scenes, expressing herself instead in ways that came across balanced and fair that you can't help but respect and root for her. She was very charismatic as a heroine, in her relationship with her mother and Bastien and in her understanding and respect of human nature while keeping at her own beliefs and principles.
Americans never seem to be at peace with their surroundings - they're always heating or cooling or just constantly changing everything to meet their whims. Watching their industriousness exhausts me, and sometimes I want to shout out, to tell them to just be. But I know I have no right to criticize. Everyone needs to feel some degree of control over their universe.

Yeah, I may have highlighted half the book in all of Carleson's redolent observations put into matter-of-fact yet haunting prose. She writes with confidence without that aggressive push, presenting details with documentary-like impartiality. The events, the personalities, the places all seem familiar but never distracts from the plot at hand.

I was wary for a while that with the introduction of two male protagonists in the story, it was trying to conform to please certain YA readers' palates. But it doesn't. There will be no picking of Team Amir or Team Ian in this one, this is not that kind of book. Both are key instruments to her process of self-discovery and character growth in the midst of isolation in the midst of freedom. And it's an amazing relief to see how it is done properly.

I love how this was a fully-formed story, with no lapses in the rhythm and tension that it set. Some parts may have employed some 007 bells and whistles which was a bit of a contrast to the realistic path this has set itself on but I found myself more entertained than bothered, how the suspense was built and satisfied in its resolution. The way this ended was a brilliant end note on what I felt this book was trying to achieve, the message it was trying to cut across. I may have raised a wary eyebrow at the commentary after the author's note because I'm not too keen on reading something that tells guides me HOW to read a book but I can't deny how well-thought out it was and how the real-life stories within it enriched the context of Laila's own. How a story is not just a story and how good is not simply good just as bad is never simply bad. It makes you think how the world as it is now is a product of good intentions, noble aspirations and dreams of men and women, great and small, good and bad that went well or had gone awry along the way. How the reality we exist in can never be captured by video, encapsulated in political science books or memoirs in all its complex textures, twists and turns.

We all serve within the rules of that reality, which in turn serves it's contradictory masters of circumstance, purpose and chance and each person's story is either each person's struggle to break free and from that or waltz with it. It may not hold the answers on the how but there's something to be said about knowing and journeys half-made.
I am my mother's daughter. I am my father's daughter. And I have learned from their mistakes. I am the Invisible Queen.

Now excuse me as I search and add the recommended books listed as companion reading for this one to my TBR shelf.

ARC provided by Random House Children-Knopf BFYR (THANK YOU!) thru Netgalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Quotes may not appear in the final edition.

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Profile Image for Amy | Foxy Blogs.
1,472 reviews975 followers
February 4, 2014
**4.75 Cultural stars**
"To me, it was simply a story with a message: family honor, redemption, and true love."

Laila is the Invisible Queen of the Middle East (easily ignored, easily dismissed). After her father is murdered she becomes a refugee in America along with her mother and younger brother. Adjusting to her new life in America is a night and day experience.


Things aren't as they seem and she discovers that within her own family. The betrayal runs deep within her network. The last part of the book holds secrets and an endless loop of double crossing.

A great young adult book with an interesting story line. The short chapters made the book move along quickly. For my romance loving friends this book does not have romance.


20th book of 2014

**ARC pre-approved by Random House Children's Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**
Profile Image for Lisbeth Avery {Domus Libri}.
196 reviews154 followers
January 19, 2014
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 royalty. Not to mention my last encounter with YA books concerning Muslim teenagers...

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

J.C. Carleson's biggest strength is in her writing. While it was clean and minimalistic, it conveyed the intensity of the events extraordinarily well. I didn't expect much from The Tyrant's Daughter but Carleson more than delivered.

Laila was an incredibly realistic protagonist. She was far from perfect yet still relatable. Laila was far from likable as a person but I don't think I'd say I disliked her. Despite her haughty self-centred streak, Laila was a genuinely interesting and intriguing character. Her flaws and her strengths were well-developed. I could easily see a real teenager () acting in a similar way as she does.

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.

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.

I appreciated how the Islamic faith was treated. It wasn't villianized or treated as non-feminist as I've seen all over media. While Laila did struggle with trying to find the real her, I appreciated that Carleson didn't totally mess it up.

Laila's story was amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed it. While it wasn't perfect, it was really good and I totally recommend it to people looking for a deeper book than the average YA novel.
Profile Image for Marvin.
1,414 reviews5,331 followers
February 26, 2014
When The Tyrant's Daughter was offered to me for review, I was not aware that it was from Random House's Children's Books division, aka a Young Adult novel. If I have known this, I probably wouldn't have accepted it as I rarely review YA books. I glad I did read it because, YA or not, it may be a contender for best fiction in 2014.

Laila is a fifteen year old girl and the daughter of a controversial ruler of a foreign country. Her father is killed in a coup by her more traditional and military-minded uncle leaving Laila, her mother, and her six year old brother, who she describes in the first sentence of the book as "The king of nowhere" in peril. Having escaped with her family and now living in America, she not only has to adjust to a very different lifestyle but is confused by her mother's seemingly indifference to their decline from opulence and importance to rather sparse surroundings as exiles. She is suspicious of the gatherings of expatriates, who her mother would have not associated with in the past, and particularly of a lone American man who she suspects is with the CIA. She is also discovering through her new friends and the much more open media, that her father may have not been who she thought he was.

In telling Laila's story, and in immersing the reader into the thoughts of this smart but sometimes innocent girl, J. C. Carleson makes some wise moves. While there is enough information to clearly place Laila's country in the Mid-East and presumably a Muslim nation, the author never makes it specific. This allows the reader to be less judgmental and accept Laila as she is; a young girl caught in a myriad of cultural and political conflicts. Yet the events that take place in the novel seem all too real to anyone with even a slight knowledge of world events. Carleson has managed to latch on to just the right amount of empathy without the baggage that often accompanies this type of cross-cultural tale. Laila is just a young teenager trying to grow up, but also a victim in a nasty power game and maybe even a unwilling player in the same repressive regime. Her conflicts and dilemmas seem real especially since she essentially comes across as a typical teenager despite how others see her. She is also smart and appropriately cynical, especially when she asks herself things like, "Why am I the only one seems to feel luck like a sunburn?" How she survives her plight is what makes this story mesmerizing. I won't give away anything about the end except to say that it is as emotionally perfect and powerful as endings can be.

While The Tyrant's Daughter is classified as YA, it should be noted that the author does not water down anything. While respecting her audience, she does present some events that can be disturbing to the very young. For the teenage audience that I feel this book is aimed at, it is exactly the right amount of reality that they would respect. But I do not see this as purely a YA novel. I think adults will love and admire it too. Besides, in a YA world where fantasy and science fiction dominates the charts, it is nice to see a quality work that deals with the real world.

Profile Image for Christine PNW.
712 reviews194 followers
February 8, 2014
Disclosure: I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley.

I had mixed emotions about this book. It is ambitious, and engaging, and is a very fast read. I think I read it in about an hour and a half, while watching to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I am not sure that it succeeded in all of it's ambitions, but I would generally recommend it.

It is a first person narrative from Laila, with very short chapters. I liked the narrator - she was convincing to me. The cast of this book is limited to a few people: Laila, her mother, her brother, the CIA agent, a few classmates, a few other immigrants from home. The country that Laila has fled is an unnamed country in the Middle East. We are obviously meant to think of Iran or Iraq, but the author never identifies the setting of Laila's country of origin. The action takes place in a relatively short period of time after Laila's arrival in the U.S.

There was so much going on in the background of this book: the various forms that privilege can take, how one person's privilege is another person's cage, misogyny, the impact of religious fundamentalism, growing up in a world where physical safety is just another commodity, available only sometimes and only ever to the wealthy.

Laila is an insightful narrator, but she is not precocious. She is an ethical person, but not a questioning person. Or at least she wasn't until after her father is assassinated.

I would love to get the rest of Laila's story. Those of you who read the book will know just what I mean.
Profile Image for Beatrix.
544 reviews96 followers
August 7, 2014
I feel so conflicted about this book, whereas I loved the idea and the whole premise of it, I just couldn’t connect with the story.

My main problem was with our protagonist – Laila. I felt like I didn’t ‘know’ her, which is very weird since it’s written in first person narrative. All throughout the book, the narration bothered me, it felt very detached, like third person instead of first person POV. That’s the best I can describe it.

Now, even though this was lacking in emotion department, I still think it’s a good book, and I definitely appreciate what the author tried to do. This novel offers us a new glimpse into the affairs of the Third World. (Country from which Laila’s family is from is not named, but with current Israeli–Palestinian conflict I couldn’t help but draw parallels.)

Therefore, I really don’t have anything much to say about The Tyrant's Daughter, I liked it enough, but obviously I was not impressed. This book won’t be memorable to me, but I can appreciate it as an attempt to show that there is other side to everything.
Profile Image for Dianne.
6,773 reviews572 followers
February 7, 2014
THIS IS A MUST READ for anyone curious about cultures so different from American practices. Although written for YA reading, this is an eye-opening experience for all age groups! Imagine being dropped in the middle of a dictatorial country whose religious beliefs require certain dress and conduct at all times, where voicing your opinion could mean torture or death. How difficult would this be for you to acclimate to? The Tyrant’s Daughter by J. C. Carleson is a moving and enlightening tale of a young girl, forced to come the United States, ill-prepared for the culture-shock of a land of people who live large, freely and openly expressing themselves. Laila’s father ruled his country with an iron fist, but betrayal and the thirst for power finally caught up with him. After her father was assassinated, Laila, her mother and her younger brother were spirited away to the United States where Laila was plunged into a world so different from the simple luxury she was used to, yet she willingly tried to experience everything, to fit in. Along the way, her eyes were opened to the brutal and ulgy truth the world knew about who and what her father was. His rule brought pain and suffering for those who spoke against him, but now things were far worse.

When the opportunity came for her mother to manipulate events so they could return to the glory of their elegant lifestyle, in a seat of power in their own country, Laila is shocked to see a calculating side to the woman she loved and afraid that she was making a huge mistake by playing such a dangerous game. Does Laila really want to return home? As Laila struggles with these new revelations, while trying to re-define who she is, who she wants to be, she must decide whether to return to the life she knew or stay in a world she is growing accustomed to. Can she ignore the suffering of her people? Will they accept her family back? Her chance to grow as a person, to become educated is far greater in the United States, but is there more to life than personal desires?

J. C. Carleson writes with clean, straightforward prose, defining her characters with realistic qualities and quirks. She carefully defines the spotlight of this tale and it is clearly Laila, who shines with a calm intelligence and a thirst for the truth of her homeland. While other characters are important to the plot, two others stand out, Ian, who represents an All-American boy and Amir, also from “home,” but one whose family and village have suffered at the hands of her father’s regime. Is her attraction to them a symbol for her divided feelings between the old and new worlds in her life? You decide.

I received this ARC edition from Random House Children's Alfred A. Knopf BFYR in exchange for my honest review.

Publication Date: February 11, 2014
Publisher: Random House Children's Alfred A. Knopf BFYR
ISBN: 9780449809976
Genre: YA Fiction
Number of Pages: 304
Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Profile Image for Nancy.
Author 8 books14 followers
January 18, 2014
An Aristocratic Mid-Eastern Teenager Caught Between the Past and Her Present in America

Fifteen-year-old Leila, her mother, and seven-year-old brother, Bastian, escape from their oil-rich Mideastern country when her father, the ruler, is assassinated by his brother, the General. In America, Leila is faced with a foreign world. The palace is replaced with a one-bedroom apartment. No body guards surround the family. Her brother adapts quickly to his new surroundings, but her mother plots to return to power in their homeland.

In the high school, Leila finds herself surrounded by bouncy, bright Americans who find loud music and sexually suggestive dancing amusing. Leila, on the contrary, hears gun fire and can't forget her conservative, veiled upbringing. She makes friends, but these friends bring up uncomfortable ideas. Was her father responsible for the bloodshed in her country? She becomes friends with a boy from the opposition, giving her a glimpse of what her father's policies did to people.

Although this novel is targeted at a young adult audience, it can be equally interesting for adults. The author did an exceptionally fine job showing how Leila reacted to the cultural differences between her country and the United States. It also shows how ordinary people get caught up in international intrigue and the cost this entails for their families.

I highly recommend this book. The characters, particularly Leila, are well drawn, as is Amir, her friend from the opposition. Some of the American teenagers seem one dimensional, but that is appropriate since they are seen through Leila's eyes. It is only as the book progresses that she is able to see that Emmy, her best friend and supporter, has her own serious problems to deal with.

The bonus material at the end is well worth reading. The author explains how she got the idea for the book, and Dr. Cheryl Benard , RAND Researcher, presents a personal view of women caught up in international politics on the Mideast.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.
Profile Image for Alex .
1,466 reviews25 followers
December 23, 2016
It hurts me so much to give this one star! I can usually see something good in a book to give it at least a two-star rating but I just can't with this book. It makes me so sad. I was really hoping this would open my eyes and make me love it but that didn't happen. I really did not like this book.

The book starts right after her father's death (it's literally on the first page of the book so it's not a spoiler). I knew that it was going to start that way but I thought we would still get some background information first. Nope. Instead, I was thrown into this story without any introduction. Okay, I can handle that. I can't handle feeling like I missed something for the first 60+ pages. It was like an inside joke I couldn't understand. There really is no better way to explain it. Even the ending made me feel like I was missing something. I had no idea what was going on until the last chapter. This book was like reading only the middle of the story. I think it was supposed to add to the idea of Laila' turbulent future but that didn't work for me. It just felt unfinished.

The way the book is formatted is very choppy to me. The writing was very beautiful and passionate (probably the only thing I liked about the story) but the chapters were so choppy. They are very short and don't go into much depth. (It's not as bad as James Patterson's books where the end of a chapter will literally end like this: "Hey, how's it going?' and start like this: "Not too bad. You?".) It wasn't good at all in my opinion. The scenes just felt so choppy to me because of how it was formatted. I just can't figure out how to demonstrate why I felt that way. I did feel that way though and it caused me to really dislike the book. (I don't like short chapters, though. It could be great for you but not for me. )

I also despised Laila as the main character. She was a haughty, spiteful, wretched, selfish, manipulative person. She used people left and right but was upset when someone 'used' her. It was disgusting the way she acted. I understand that her father died and her country was torn by civil war. That does not excuse her actions. That does not give her the right to treat Ian and Emmy like dirt even though they were so nice to her. She also was very high and mighty. Laila just had this air about her that she was better than everyone else, even her own mother. God forbid the woman try to grieve in her own way. Because she thought she was better than her mother, she thought it was perfectly okay for her to betray her mother. Laila was obviously in the right on that one because her mother is an awful person. In the end, she even thought that she had the right to be in charge of the family's finances because 'her eyes were open'. God, what a load of bull.

Laila treats people like crap in the book. Her mom, Amir, Bastien, Emmy, Ian...you name 'em, she treated 'em like crap. There's a scene with Ian where the two are making out. Things get a little heated so Ian stops it. Laila is confused because she wanted to go all the way. When asked why she wanted to, she says: "Because it's what's done here.". Yep. Ian was nothing more than a male with a working penis to her. Emmy gets treated awfully as well. Laila can't even attempt to be nice to the girl that tried so hard to make her feel welcome. There's a scene where her and Amir have this mind chat(not literally)making fun of Emmy and her uncultured, American ways because she didn't know something from their culture. It was sick.* Yes, I realize that Americans can be extremely ignorant, arrogant and self centered. I don't think that's a good excuse for Laila to treat the one person who was nice and welcoming to her like the dirt beneath her shoes.

In my opinion, this book is not worth the time or money. Yes, it did show me how different America is from the rest of the world. It did show me how hard it is to be from a warring country. I can get that from any other book or memoir. This one just didn't cut it. I might change my rating later but I honestly can't bring myself to do that right now. I was not a fan at all. I'm sorry if you liked this book but I just think that there are better books out there that represent the Middle Eastern conflicts. (Like I am Malala. It changed my worldview completely)

*I am extremely biased by my dislike of this book. These scenes are how I interpreted them, not as they might actually be. This is all just my opinion.
Profile Image for Beth Bonini.
1,300 reviews279 followers
October 11, 2015
This is a timely book for teenagers who are interested in politics -- more generally the political situation that is currently unfolding (unravelling?) all over the Middle East, but particularly in Syria. At the end of the book are two extremely interesting afterwords: one by the author, who explains what inspired the story; and one by Dr. Cheryl Benard, who discusses in both general and specific ways how politics is a very complicated human business.

The premise of the story is that 15 year-old Laila, her 6 year-old brother Bastien and her mother have been granted asylum in the United States (specifically, a Virgina suburb of Washington D.C.) following the coup that has taken place in their country. The country is an unnamed Muslim country; not a particularly oil-rich one, perhaps more like Afghanistan. Laila's father was the "king" of this country; his brother, more religiously conservative and less tolerant of the West, has staged the coup and murder of the King. Laila has been sheltered all of her life; partly because she is female, partly because of her position. When she arrives in the US, she is exposed to information -- via an uncensored Internet -- for the first time. What she discovers about her father, and his rule of their country, is unsettling and disillusioning, to say the least. With little guide, instruction or protection, Laila has to make her way in the world of a suburban high school -- and figure out a whole new set of rules and cultural mores. In addition to these worries and difficulties, Laila has to contend with two boys -- an American one who seems to have an interest in her, and the one from her country who seems to despise her.

For the first time in her life, Laila has some measure of freedom -- but that freedom comes with its own constraints. The family is short on money and very short on friends. In many ways, her mother has checked out as a protective parent. She alternates between being depressed and withdrawn and being preoccupied with political manoeuvres (with a CIA agent, with Laila's uncle, and with a group of nationals who have no particular reason to trust her). Laila is struggling to understand a situation without having nearly all, or even part, of the truth. Meanwhile, nearly everyone else is trying to figure out what Laila does know. Needless to say, she is both confused and paranoid -- not to mention grieving for a parent who turns out to have been a tyrant in many ways.

The set-up for this story is intriguing, to say the least. Laila turns out to be highly intelligent and resourceful about managing the strange circumstances she finds herself in. I'm not entirely convinced by the plot's outcome, but it was certainly an unexpected twist.
Profile Image for Liviania.
957 reviews64 followers
February 12, 2014
Laila, her mother, and her younger brother are sharing a small apartment in America. They fled their home country following Laila's father's death in a coup. He was the leader of their country, the king (as Laila understood it). Now, they have to find a way to survive in a new country with few of their old connections.

I loved Laila's point of view. She's just at the right age to really start questioning her parents, and of course any normal teenage issues are compounded by the questions of just who her parents are. Was her father a king or a dictator? That's the obvious question, but many questions arise about her mother too. Laila has access to information and people she never would've encountered in her home, but she knows how hard it is to get the full picture. After all, she's been blind to it her whole life.

Much of THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER deals with the culture clash Laila experiences. Sometimes I wish things were clarified more. For instance, it becomes clear that Laila isn't religious, but it still takes awhile to figure out why she leaves wearing a veil behind immediately. (Especially when one of the book's early passages dwells on the benefits of a veil.) Or, when Laila remembers her mom removing layer after layer on a flight to France, there's no indication of whether Laila changed her appearance too. However, I thought THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER did a nice job of not demonizing Laila's culture while illuminating flaws and restrictions she never noticed before because she had never experienced anything else. Plus, not all American culture is presented as good.

There's quite a bit going on in THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER. There's the aforementioned culture clash in addition to espionage and a romance. Laila's country remains unnamed and is obviously made up, based on a variety of real places. But there's a nice level of detail to the politics, believably curtailed by Laila's own naivety and lack of experience. There's a nice amount of material in the back about J.C. Carleson's research and good nonfiction to read afterwards.

I thought THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER was absorbing. It was just the right length. I thoroughly enjoyed Laila's journey and felt for her as she searched for the truth and tried to do the right thing, all while trying to build a new life for herself. Sometimes the high school stuff was a bit bland, but it was saved by Laila's through self-examination. She's a memorable narrator.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books967 followers
March 11, 2014
For a YA book, The Tyrant's Daughter offers young readers a unique angle -- the daughter of an assassinated Middle East despot is forced to flee with her remaining family to the U.S. where she must adopt to an American lifestyle while piecing together the Machiavellian plot that led to her father's murder. This is not your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-wins-girl YA formula by any means, and it gives the narrative a lift which keeps pages turning.

Author J.C. Carleson (pseudonym, I assume) is a former CIA undercover agent herself according to the biographical information supplied. This helps her to liberally season the book with elements of intrigue, including (surprise!) CIA meddling. Fifteen-year-old Laila is the protagonist, and she's living in a Washington D.C. suburb with her brother Bastien (the boy who would be "king") and her scheming mother (accent on scheming). Carleson gives us a dual plot -- one at the high school where Laila must learn the habits of American teenagers and "dating," thanks to romantic interest from an American kid named Ian; and the other at home where her mother receives a series of mysterious visitors, each keenly interested in going's on back "home" in the war-torn homeland.

This combo lends the book both suspense and small degrees of humor, a winning combination. My only criticism comes from the suspension of disbelief factor. For one, Laila seems to use some vocabulary you wouldn't expect from someone so new to the United States. Also, the convoluted chess match back home gets a little too cooked for its own good. Overall, however, most teens should give it a pass on these quibbles and take it for what it is -- a fast-paced, short-chaptered, culturally-sensitive adventure story of a girl caught between two countries in ways none of us could ever imagine.
Profile Image for Emily Donnellan.
553 reviews429 followers
January 5, 2015
Laila’s father was the king of her Middle Eastern country. After his assignation in a coup by her Uncle, Laila, her mother, and younger brother are flown to America. Exiled from her home Laila has to navigate American high school, shifting loyalties, and must decide if she wants to return home.

Throughout the novel I was impressed with Laila’s character development. She goes from being a princess to living in an apartment. She handles all of theses changes with little whining or feeling sorry for herself. I admired her ingenuity and determination to do the right thing even after finding out the atrocities her father committed.

The Tyrant’s Daughter is ripe with difficult subject matter including civil war, bombings, and death. I really appreciated how Carleson handled it. She didn’t lay blame or choose sides Carleson merely presented facts.

One of the things I didn’t like about this novel was that Laila’s country of origin is never mentioned by name and is left to be vague. In the authors note Carleson says this is because she didn’t want to be leashed to a particular setting or events but I felt like the story lost something in all the vagueness

Overall, I enjoyed The Tyrant’s Daughter it is very well written and incredibly interesting. I don’t think it has gotten nearly enough attention and if you’re looking for a political novel I wouldn’t hesitate to pick this one up.
Profile Image for Julie Kee.
25 reviews
September 11, 2018
This book was so good and interesting and surprising. It did not end like I thought it would and it really shocked me. I loved all the characters, especially Emmy, and I thought the relationships between Laila and her mother, and Laila and her father were very well developed throughout the book. I felt the ending could have wrapped her story up a little more, but I'm satisfied with guessing for myself. I loved this book and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys character- driven stories and interesting twists.
Profile Image for Megan.
2,217 reviews11 followers
July 18, 2021
This story starts out a little implausible and builds to a really interesting coming-of-age/socio-political commentary with a very intriguing ending. Quite clever.
Profile Image for Bethany.
285 reviews23 followers
November 18, 2017
3.5 stars

This review is based on an ARC received for free from NetGalley. I am not being paid to review this book and what I write here is my own opinion. Below is the scale I use in rating books.

An eye-opening and engaging look at what it is to be the daughter of a deposed dictator. Appropriate for high-low readers as well as regular readers.

full review
By the time she is sixteen Laila has been on the losing side of an insurrection that left her father dead and her little brother Bastien the king-in-exile of an unnamed nation in what is probably the Middle East. Laila, her mother, and her little brother escaped the violence through the aid of an American government official who used their lives as leverage and continues to do so while the family attempts to adapt to their new existence in the United States.

The adjustment from confined luxury to unrestricted impoverishment goes more easily for some members of the family than others. Six year old Bastien is the first to adapt, although he still thinks of himself as a king, but with the help of a friend who is almost too good to be true Laila finds herself hesitantly integrating and taking part in American social activities like school dances and even dating. Laila's mother, on the other hand, seems unwilling to adapt to her new reality, and her refusal to relinquish the family's claim to power at home keeps the their situation permanently precarious.

Some of the American characters in this story seem a trifle one-dimensional, even those that can be considered main characters like Laila's friend Emmy, and Ian, for whom Laila is willing to attempt to overcome her conservative upbringing. The characters from Laila's homeland, like Amir, are more richly developed and I found myself caring far more about them than I did about the Americans, and I choose to think that this is because Carleson is a talented enough writer to make the reader see things through Laila's eyes and add importance to some characters over others for no reason other than the fact Laila has done so.

The text is appropriate for high-low readers as well as regular readers. The writing itself is first-person and direct, making the subject matter far more accessible and relatable than a third-person narrative could have done. Laila is not a perfect person, but that makes her a better character. She gets manipulated, she isn't always a good friend, and by the end of the book the reader still doesn't really know exactly what she's going to do, which makes the book all the more delightful and realistic.

Some things to note:

The name of Laila's country is never mentioned in the text, and this is deliberate. Some people might contend that by composing a generic fictitious country composed of many events and people Carleson is saying that all of the nations that have suffered this kind of turmoil are interchangeable, but in her afterword the author makes it clear that this was not her intent, and I did not feel that any trivialization took place. Instead, it actually made the book more poignant for me, as someone who is fortunate enough not to have endured any of the miseries that befall Carleson's characters, because it did not limit the associations to any one region or people, thus it could be about anyone, anywhere.

The version I read included a brief essay about real women in similar situations to Laila's, and that was a very interesting read that enhanced the text of the novel, but it is not strictly necessary in order to enjoy the book. It does offer further food for thought, though, if a reader finds herself intrigued by what she's just read and interested in learning more about the subject.

rating scale
1 star - I was barely able to finish it. I didn't like it.
2 stars - It was okay. I didn't dislike it.
3 stars - I liked it. It was interesting.
4 stars - It was excellent. I really liked it.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,673 reviews490 followers
January 15, 2014
Crossposted at Booklikes.

Disclaimer: I was auto-approved for an ARC via Netgalley.

I do not know why I was auto approved for an ARC of this book. While I do, occasionally, read Young Adult work, there are far more proficient readers of YA and children books than me out there. Anyway, I’m glad I did get auto approved for this book.

To me, rightly or wrongly, young adult novels with a girl on the cover equal special snowflake torn between two boys, one of whom is jerk. This is not the case in this novel. At all. Laila might be a special snowflake but that is down to politics. A book like this reminds everyone what children’s literature can and should be.

Laila, her mother, and her brother have fled to America after the murder of her father, a dictator or ruler of an unnamed Islamic kingdom somewhere else on the globe. Carlson’s plot is inspire not only by the Arab Spring but also by the states of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. The family tries to adjust to a change in circumstances and culture.

For Laila this adjustment includes coming to terms with who her father actually was, what he may or may not have done as well as adjusting to the new American culture. For her mother, it means struggling not only finances but with something else, darker than Laila struggles to make out over the course of the book.

There isn’t a love triangle in this book. There is love and desire, panting and smooching, but there isn’t a love triangle. The book is more about a journey of self discovery and about making the current events more relevant and important to the younger generation.

What I really enjoyed about this book, besides the fact that Laila is not perfect, is flawed, and does struggle, is that she gets friends. She learns to make friends and care for friendships. Her girlfriends are not her rivals, but her friends. Additionally, there is a parallel between Laila and her family, and what happens to Emmy and hers. In many ways, Carlson not only introduces a reader to the “other” but makes it okay to ask questions to understand another culture. It is not done in a heavy handed way. The characters are so well drawn that the interactions come across as completely natural.

Perhaps, the plot involving Laila's mother and the CIA (this is hardly spoiler as it is mentioned in the book blurb) is a bit far fetch, by Carlson accounts for that by showing how Laila may or may not know her mother, the hints at what her mother may be aware of it.

Strangely, the struggle of a girl’s coming to terms of her families political past works beautifully with all the struggles that teenagers go though. This does not mean that any of them are trivialized. They are not and all are handed with tact – the only, understandable and real exception is the use of the bomb scare. It makes the story powerful and allows for the outsider (i.e. a Western) to enter into Laila's world and not feel guilty because their problems are not as bad.

The writing in general is compelling and there are some wonderful details – like Laila’s reaction upon meeting Emmy, the comparison of Cinderella stories, Bastien’s reaction to cereal. Carlson knows her subject. While marketed for children/young adults, the novel can easily be read by adults. Furthermore, it would make a great reading for any class, raising questions of morality, culture, history, perspective, and violence.
Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Molly.
456 reviews127 followers
January 23, 2014
Huge thank you to the publisher for letting me read an advanced copy of this book. Writing this honest review to say thank you

4.5 stars

Wow this book was good. I wasn't totally sure what to expect when I went into it, but I'm so glad that I read it. Sadly, I'm not really that up-to-date with everything that is going on in the middle east (I blame living in Japan, but it's mostly my own apathy towards keeping up to date with world news), but that didn't hinder my enjoyment of this book. I especially loved reading the authors note at the end and seeing how she used parallel events in her novel.

As a non-native living in a foreign country (American living in Japan) I could totally connect with Laila and her family on their exile to the US. I know what it's like to move to a new country and be faced with having to explain and defend your own culture while trying to navigate, understand, and even accept the new culture that you're in. I really loved how this was done. All of Laila's stereotypes about the USA are ones that I hear from Japanese people ALL of the time. Everything is big, loud, noisy, too fast. At first it bothered me and I felt like the author was perpetuating the American stereotype, but the more I thought about it, the more honest it was. I find that A LOT of people outside of the USA are more-or-less trained to think that the USA IS this loud, fat, superficial nation. And the same goes for people in the USA. Laila's friends were quick to judge her and her culture, and they often didn't accept her culture. I loved it when she told the Cinderella story and the way everyone reacted. I can honestly say that I've also had similar reactions to Japanese culture. I try to understand, and have come to accept A LOT of it, but there are just some things that I cannot. But UNDERSTANDING is the key. So I really clicked with this aspect of the book and enjoyed the hell out of it.

I really loved Laila's voice. She was such a strong character and so regal all through the story. She had her moments of weakness, anger, recklessness. She was able to rebel in more ways than a typical teenager, and she went all out at times. I'm glad that she stepped out of her comfort zone and tried new things. I liked her friends and the way she handled her choices. I loved watching her navigate her new life and deal with the freedoms she was suddenly handed.

I also loved the descriptions of the middle east. One of the BIGGEST issues I have with books set in foreign countries is that a lot of the time the author has no idea about the REAL LIFE stuff that happens. Anyone can watch the news and google about foreign countries, but if you haven't spent a GOOD amount of time in a place, you wont really understand the way things work, the customs, the people. The author was spot on with the details though and I never felt the need to question what she was showing us. Credibility is important with books set in foreign countries, and this was full of it.

I was really surprised by the ending though! I didn't see it moving in that direction and thought it was a brave choice.

And can I say how freaking COOL it is that the author was a legit CIA operative? One of my childhood dreams!!! Ah, so cool. Def check this book out guys!
Profile Image for Kristine.
700 reviews15 followers
February 6, 2014
Original review found at http://kristineandterri.blogspot.ca/2...
4.5 Stars
* I received an ARC of this book from Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Every now and again a book comes along that makes you stop and think. The Tyrant's Daughter is one of those books. We hear and see unimaginable things on the news every day about political turmoil, war, corrupt leadership and death in countries so far from our norm without much thought. It is easy to lay blame, distinguish a villain and perhaps even voice what we think should happen to said villain but do we stop and think about the effects and consequences on the children and families of that person? This is the story of what one young girl goes through after her father is assassinated and she is forced into exile and to leave the only life she knows.

Laila is a fifteen year old girl who is struggling with who she is and where she belongs after she, along with her mother and six year old brother, are forced into exile in the United States. She goes from a life of power and riches in her country (not specifically named in the book) to a life of poverty in a tiny apartment on the outskirts of Washington. She not only leaves a life of power but also a life of security guards, convoys and the constant sound of gunfire. It is here that she struggles to find the truth about who she is, where she fits in and how to survive in a much different culture while grieving for her dead father at the same time.

Who was her father? From careful research she learns terrible things about the "Dictator" and the things he did but she only knew him as a loving, attentive father. Why is her mother so determined to go back and have her young brother take over leadership? Who are these strange people that keep visiting her apartment? These are all questions that Laila must come to terms with while at the same time trying to adjust to her new life.

This book is told from Laila's point of view through short, easy to read chapters. Once I got started, I couldn't put it down. Her struggles and emotions throughout the book haunted me and stayed with me long after I finished the last page. Although the ending was not ideal, it was honest and realistic in a story where there can never really be a happily ever after. Even though it is geared to the young adult population I believe that readers of all ages will benefit and enjoy this thought provoking and unique story. Although fictional, it is a definite eye opener.
Profile Image for Tara Chevrestt.
Author 27 books295 followers
January 30, 2015
I thought this was a very engrossing read. I was absolutely hooked from page one. The heroine, though young (this is aimed at young adults), is a strong one. She has been through so much and continues to go through much as the book continues.

Many a young lady would have caved or given up, but this one tries to not only be strong but do the right thing.

Her father, a dictator in an unnamed Arab country, has been killed. Her uncle has taken over. Her mother has taken her and her brother to refuge in America...but in exchange she must work with a possibly shady CIA agent. While her country is torn apart and her home life not much better, Laila also must deal with a new country, new rules, new school, new friends. As we follow Laila, we see American high school in a new light. People making light of bomb threats. People blissfully ignorant of war across the world, of real bombs, of loss.

And then she gets drawn into drama involving her country that she doesn't want to be involved in...just as she gets to enjoying the freedoms American life provides a young woman...sorta. See, she's always torn, and we witness this many times through how she feel at a dance, for example. She discovers the power her body can have, yet at the same time she feels self conscious showing a bit of leg.

Laila must do what she feels is right, even if it means hurting her family or walking away from friends and though in the end I hated her decision, I admired that she had the guts to do it. She made up her mind and followed through, stuck to it.

The author notes are very enlightening. If you didn't know much about Arab Spring before, you'll understand much better after reading this novel. Something else I liked was how this book showed us that...even the most unlikable of people, such as dictators, are capable of loving their children and being loved in return. And yes, we can still love our parents and yet hate who they are to others.

Full review and favorite quote: http://wwwbookbabe.blogspot.com/2015/...
Profile Image for Maggie.
970 reviews
January 24, 2014
I don't know how many teens are going to pick this book up on their own, so teachers and librarians are going to have to be prepared to recommend this one. I feel it is an important book in that it addresses current events and political issues important for students to think about. Especially of value is the commentary written by Dr. Cheryl Benard, "Truth in Fiction". This is something most teens will not read unless interested in the topic so again, teachers and librarians need to be prepared to share this with readers.

Carleson's book raises great questions for readers. What does one do when discovering that the father you love and who has shown great love toward you turns out to be an evil dictator responsible for the deaths and torture of many? How would one cope with this discovery? The main character, Laila, is only fifteen when she is exiled to the United States after her uncle has her father shot in a coup to take over the country. Once in the US, Laila begins to read and learn about her father's regime from information published in Western papers, articles, and various other sources. What she learns is very different from the "truth" she knows. How can this be? And that is going to be just one of the main questions teens will want answers to.

This novel is believable and will help teens living in the US begin to think about life in the Middle East from a teen's perspective. This will be a very good book to add to Choice Read selections in World History, Psychology, and Government classes.

The book also contains some recommendations for further reading on the Middle East and Arab Spring.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley.
Profile Image for Malia.
Author 6 books568 followers
August 29, 2017
There were parts of this book I felt were so relevant and true, it should be read in schools. Others were a little more typical YA fiction, but that's okay, too. In any case, it was enjoyable, and thought-provoking, and thereby I can only recommend it.
The premise of the story deals with a teenage girl being uprooted from an unnamed Middle Eastern country to Washington DC. Her father was a dictator/tyrant, as the title suggests, and after his ousting, her family is forced into exile.
The story sounded intriguing, as one rarely hears much about the consequences of political coups for the ruler's family. Maybe this is because the powers that be want to protect them, by keeping their identities relatively low-key and giving them new ones, as in this book. I don't know, it does make you wonder, though.
I sympathized with Laila and her family, and their struggle in having to adapt to new surroundings and a totally new standard of living. Carleson portrays Laila's worries with simple subtlety, which I found far more effective than dramatics. Laila has to try to fit in with her American surroundings, unsure whether she wants this, or whether it is even possible.
I didn't love Laila, her character was a distant and cool for that kind of connection, but her story instantly drew me in, and maybe Carleson's portrayal of her subdued personality would be accurate. I suppose the thing that could have bumped up my rating here, is just that though. If Laila had come across as a warmer person, I think this would have been a really fantastic book. As it is, it's still very good and well worth reading.

Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com

Profile Image for Erin.
303 reviews2 followers
January 28, 2014
I was pre-approved for this title by the publisher via NetGalley. Thank you for the opportunity to read this book!

I haven't read any other books focusing on the specific subjects touched on in this book, so I wasn't sure what to expect going in to The Tyrant's Daughter. I ended up really enjoying the story and the characters. They were real to me in a way that a lot of other books' characters aren't. I really liked that while there is a huge disconnect between Laila's world and mine, and I haven't gone through anything remotely similar to what she has, I was still able to relate to and understand her actions and emotions.

I found the very beginning of the book a bit hard to follow, as it jumps around a lot between scenes, but the story settles in quickly and the book is a fast-paced read. Seeing the US through Laila's eyes was really interesting and seeing it through the eyes of someone whose experiences were so different from my own added another layer to the story. Initially, Laila sees things almost as caricatures of themselves, and I thought it was interesting to see how her point of view of some things changed (or didn't change) over the course of the book.

I also loved the section at the end where we learn a bit more about how the author approached the story, as well as some information that I felt added a new perspective to the events in the book that I wouldn't have had otherwise. Overall, I thought this was something truly different from what is available in YA right now, and that was really refreshing.
Profile Image for Anissa.
880 reviews268 followers
January 17, 2015
4 stars! I've had this in my e-book TBR pile for too long and decided to read it as one of my goals for 2015 is to pare those down. I'm very glad I read this and can say that I'm sorry I didn't read it sooner. Over the summer, my husband roped me in to watch the show Tyrant with him and that was somewhere in my mind when I decided I'd read this. Laila was an interesting character and I enjoyed her narration. I found myself bristling with her sometimes but then I'd remember all she'd been through and felt her action, in-action and reactions to things made sense. I won't spoil but I very much felt for her and at the end, I wanted more. I wanted to know what would become of her and if she & her family would be okay. I admit that Still, I felt it was a solid enough ending & that it left me wanting to know more, really ranks it highly for me. This is a quick read, I read it in a matter of hours in one day. I'd recommend this to anyone looking for a good story on the perspective of one recently displaced from their home country or new to America. It's not just a good YA book, it's a good book, so give it a read.
Profile Image for Katrina.
486 reviews6 followers
February 9, 2016
To call this book "problematic" would be over-simplifying matters. Beginning with protagonist Laila's nameless country of origin, the unnamed place implied to be in the Middle East is exoticized and sensationalized. Laila mentions being forced to wear a veil (never once referred to as a hijab), but immediately classifies the young girls around her as whores for the way they dress. Bomb threats at school are glorified and celebrated. The characters being flat and plot having major holes are in fact the least of my disappointments. The CIA background of the author is touted to legitimize the author's expertise, but is truly an outside perspective, ignorant of Islam and even American teenagers. The author also grandly claims she changed some aspects of her book based on what she saw on the news! What right does she have to spin that suffering and feel legitimized?

I would be horrified to see this book in the hands of a young, easily-influenced reader who takes seemingly factual information at face-value.
Profile Image for Aneta Bak.
426 reviews107 followers
January 8, 2017
Unfortunately this book wasn't for me, I didn't get very far into it but I had to stop because I knew I couldn't keep reading it.

First of all I didn't like how it started, I felt like we should have had more background information, not just be thrown into the middle of the story. It was bothering me and that was starting from page one.

The second reason I didn't read this book was because I just didn't like the main character. I couldn't relate to her at all, and I just didn't like what she did and how she did it... (that probably makes no sense but just take my word for it). She just treats everyone around her horribly and her reasoning behind it is not good at all.

I was hoping this book would be a lot better, I know a few people who really enjoyed it, but unfortunately that wasn't me.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
447 reviews
May 9, 2016
What a fascinating perspective! Of course dictators have families and children; why did I never think about what happened to their wives and children when their governments fell apart? This is a short chunk of Laila's life, when she, along with her mother and younger brother, live briefly in the US following her father's assassination. She is just old enough to begin to realize that her father was not exactly the loving man she knew him to be, and she struggles to understand the politics that will continue to control her destiny even now that he is gone. A very timely story.
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