The Tyrant’s Daughter
J. C. Carleson
Alfred A Knopf/Random House Children’s Books
Published February 11, 2014
When her father is assassinated, fifteen year-old Laila, her mother and younger brother escape their tumultuous homeland to America. As Laila explores her new freedoms, she learns that what she grew up believing about her father – that he was a king and her family royalty – is not how the rest of the world saw his rule. The ugly words – dictator, tyrant – slam into her, turning her past upside down. She watches helplessly from across the world as her uncle continues the regime of violence and destruction.
Laila joins a school for the first time in her life and struggles to fit in to the complex high school hierarchy. At home, her mother attempts to continue the way of life the family enjoyed in their homeland, a life of luxury and excess. What little money they had quickly runs out, and Laila discovers her mother making secret agreements with the American agent who helped them escape to the US. The agreements force Laila’s friendship with another family from her homeland, one who lives on the other side of the battle lines. Friendship does not come easily, and every time Laila thinks she understands what her mother is doing, the game shifts and new objectives become important. Her mother insists Laila’s younger brother will be king, but Laila can’t help wondering if that is even possible and what it will cost.
For author J C Carleson, The Tyrant’s Daughter began as a question. As the world watched events unfold in Iraq, Carleson wondered about the families of men like Bin Laden and Saddam Houssein. What are their stories? What must it have been like for the man known of the international community as a terrorist or ruthless dictator to be one’s loving father? Though this story examines the violence from a great distance, the shock and tragedy of these events rings out from its pages. Laila’s journey both to find her place in a new home and her new understanding of the events in her past make The Tyrant’s Daughter a dynamic story and a worthy read.
Laila embraces the freedom that being in the United States allows her. She dances intimately with a stranger and makes out with a classmate in a car. She seems willing to have sex with this boy, but he stops her before any clothes come off.
Laila’s uncle is a devout Muslim and a harsh judge of others who do not live out their faith as he does. Laila’s family is nonreligious.
Though Laila does not witness her father’s assassination, she recalls the moments immediately after, including seeing her mother’s blood-drenched clothing. On an outing with her family once, the armored car approaches a body left in the street and rolls over it. Laila is sickened. Laila’s uncle slaps her mother hard and tries to slap Laila, but her mother protects her. In an argument, Laila’s mother slaps her.