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The Tyrant's Daughter
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Tyrant's Daughter, a contemporary young adult novel about a fictional assassinated dictator's 15-year-old daughter, portrays life in oppressive countries and how the children of the aristocracy or leaders are kept clueless and isolated from reality. Violence, from torture to explosions to ambushes and assassinations, is part of the landscape. But it's not all violence and politics: There's humor, occasional strong language ("s--t," "a--hole," "bitch"), and romance (kissing and one intense, interrupted make-out session). A good pick to read with your teen, this novel, written by a former CIA agent, offers plenty of conversation topics: international politics; cultural and religious differences; the immigrant experience; and how parents and teens interact.
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What's the story?
Fifteen-year-old Laila, her glamorous mother, Yazmin, and her 6-year-old brother, Bastien, aka "the little prince," are the surviving family of a deposed dictator in a fictional Middle East country. The CIA saved them on the day of her father's assassination, and now they're settled in an apartment in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. Tutored privately since she was a child, Laila is fluent in English but still needs help translating the strange customs of American high schoolers. As she tries to fit in to her new environment, she discovers the incongruous truth about her father's bloody political dynasty. Since her mother is expected to cooperate with the CIA, Laila is forced to be cordial to intense, brooding fellow expat Amir, who wouldn't have been fit to be a servant in the palace back home. Meanwhile, Ian, a smart, cute student journalist, shows Laila how sweet American guys can be. But she can't shake this feeling that she'll never quite be American so long as she's really THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER.
Is it any good?
This engaging book is equal parts international politics lesson, coming-of-age story, and classic immigrant "fish out of water" tale. A former CIA agent, J.C. Carleson was inspired to write a book after wandering around in awe at the elaborately opulent children's quarters in Saddam Hussein's palaces. Making Laila, her family, and her home country a composite of various oppressive dictatorships lets Carleson conflate facts from several countries; she never shies away from noting that the United States sometimes backs these regimes as it suits its international policies.
Despite her initial ignorance of her father's bloody legacy, Laila is a believable, likable character. She's scandalized by how little even her "goody goody" new friends wear, but eventually she tries wearing a little satin dress for a dance. At first she keeps flinching and moving every time a guy comes near her, but as she tries on her American skin, she decides to see what it feels like to touch, kiss, and giggle -- all strictly forbidden in her homeland -- with a boy she likes. She never forgets that there's much more going on with her mother, the CIA, and her homeland than she'll ever understand, but she's no longer content to be a clueless princess. Laila comes into her own in a story with so much substance you'll want to look up every resource in the author's note to learn more about real tyrants and the families and nations they left behind.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way the author uses descriptions of violence to inform, not titillate or scandalize. Does The Tyrant's Daughter give you a new perspective on bloodshed and oppression around the world?
Does the book raise your interest in international politics? What do you think of the CIA's involvement in backing coups and government takeovers?
What do you think you'd miss if you were in another country? What would you want to experience in a foreign land?
- Author: J.C. Carleson
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, High School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: February 11, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 304
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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