Title: The Tyrant’s Daughter
Author: J.C. Carleson
Rating: 5/5

Teenager Laila cannot help her confusion as she begins her life anew in a typical American high school. She freezes when faced with events we take both for granted as normal, such as dresses, dances, and football games. As a political refugee from a Middle Eastern country plagued by war and destruction, she feels alien and disconnected from her own personal sense of normalcy as she struggles to adapt to a different culture. She finds it difficult to do so, especially when her mother is keeping the royalty lifestyle they used to enjoy, calling Laila’s six year old brother Bastien a king and pretending that their current exile is temporary. Through her story, Laila attempts to let go of her former self as she attempts American relationships with Emmy and Ian. She is, however, confronted constantly by her past every time she finds her mother conspiring with the CIA, dining with old rivals from home, and even conversing with Laila’s uncle, who took over ruling the country after he assassinated Laila’s father.

For those of you who, like me, shudder at politics, let me reassure you that this book isn’t suffocating. I almost didn’t accept the ARC when it was offered to me, but boy am I glad that I did! The political aspect of it is dimmed down so that it’s not boring or overwhelming, but rather complementing the plotline. There’s a nice mix between past events and present events as the story moves forward, and the plot is well-balanced between “young-adult-in-high-school”, political conflict and corruption, and culture.

All this, of course, is mixed with lovely character development. The challenges Laila faces are realistic and her reactions to them pretty much flawless. <spoilers>Her reaction to the dance, the football cheer, and the yearly phone-in threat</spoilers> were well-made and pulled not only sympathy from me, but a couple of shivers as well. We can see a full transition from the first chapter to the last chapter with her. The supporting characters also follow full transitions and I cannot say that there is a single badly written character in there. Even Ian is sweet and loveable. Emmy is your typical teenage girl who loves and hates, sometimes both at the same time. Her attitude towards Laila, as well as their friendship, is a great achievement in the novel. Emmy shows the behavior some people have for immigrant students. Both girls’ difficulties in understanding their cultural differences is necessary for such a book and Carleson did it amazingly!

The book is also well researched. The country Laila flees is made up of various Middle Eastern influences, but stories such as her version of Cinderella and Amir’s hometown’s fate gives the novel a touch of realism that makes the read really worth it. There’s always a sense that something will go wrong at any time and it builds nice suspense that does find a resolution at the end. I did not see the ending coming, and perhaps it wasn’t the ending I was hoping for, it’s definitely one that feels realistic to the rest of the story line.

I would recommend this novel to anyone, really. Teenagers and adults alike will truly enjoy it. I would also like to thank Random House Children’s, as well as Netgalley, for the ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.