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The Tyrant's Daughter
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The Tyrant's Daughter
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THERE: In an unnamed Middle Eastern country, fifteen-year-old Laila has always lived like royalty. Her father is a dictator of sorts, though she knows him as King--just as his father was, and just as...
THERE: In an unnamed Middle Eastern country, fifteen-year-old Laila has always lived like royalty. Her father is a dictator of sorts, though she knows him as King--just as his father was, and just as...
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  • THERE: In an unnamed Middle Eastern country, fifteen-year-old Laila has always lived like royalty. Her father is a dictator of sorts, though she knows him as King--just as his father was, and just as her little brother Bastien will be one day. Then everything changes: Laila's father is killed in a coup.

    HERE: As war surges, Laila flees to a life of exile in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Overnight she becomes a nobody. Even as she adjusts to a new school and new friends, she is haunted by the past. Was her father really a dictator like the American newspapers say? What was the cost of her family's privilege?

    Far from feeling guilty, her mother is determined to regain their position of power. So she's engineering a power play--conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to gain a foothold to the throne. Laila can't bear to stand still as yet another international crisis takes shape around her. But how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?

 

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Excerpts-

  • From the book I.
    Pretending
    My brother is the King of Nowhere.
    This fact doesn't matter to anyone except my family—a rapidly shrinking circle of people who Used to Be. And, even for us, there are surprisingly few perks. Now we sit in our airless apartment, curtains closed against the outside world, pretending.
    My mother pretends that nothing has changed.
    She is good at this charade. Her every gesture oozes money and power now long gone. They wouldn't let her take her closets full of designer clothes when we left our country, but she still spends hours on her appearance—pretending that photographers might still want to take pictures of her every outing, even dressed as she is now in J. C. Penney sale-rack clothes and drugstore lipstick. Pretending her old life didn't die along with my father.
    My brother is six.
    I try to remember six. What it might feel like at that age to be told that you are the exiled ruler. That you deserve to be king. That someday soon you will be—once the right people die, that is.
    My younger brother's almost-title and nonexistent kingdom do not make me anything at all. And yet I'm right here beside him, thousands of miles from everything I once knew. Mine is a nameless, purposeless banishment. Guilt by relation.
    My fifteenth birthday came and went yesterday. No one remembered. It's understandable, I suppose, considering what we've all been through in the last few weeks. There are bigger things to remember, and we all certainly have far bigger things to forget.
    Perhaps I'll start calling myself the Invisible Queen. Sometimes just having a title helps.

    My brother the king does not like that he has to share a bedroom with me.
    I don't like it either. So I pretend he's not there. I ignore his king-sized tantrums and the dirty royal socks that he leaves on my bedspread. I pretend not to hear him when he tells me what to do.
    "Mom!" Bastien shouts. "Laila isn't obeying me. Tell her she has to obey. I'm the king!" He pouts in a very regal way.
    It doesn't help that Mother encourages him. She thinks it's cute. "Laila. Can't you at least show him respect? Someday you will have to, you know." She pinches his cheeks. "My little prince."
    "King!" he insists, getting even more angry. "I'm not a prince. I'm a king!"
    I suppose it doesn't occur to him that his promotion from prince came at the cost of our father's life. He's only a child, after all; he can be forgiven for missing the connection. So sometimes I play along. "Yes, Your Majesty." I curtsy, even though back home we never did such things. Ours was not that kind of royalty. Not the kind with ball gowns or high tea or croquet matches played on manicured lawns. It wasn't even real.
    But still we pretend.

    Hindsight
    A memory.
    Bastien whining and turning up the volume on the TV. "Daddy, make them stop. I can't hear my show." He keeps pressing the button, up up up, until the voices of the talking cartoon fish drown out the sound of gunfire outside.
    Father ruffles Bastien's hair. Confident to the end, if you weren't close enough to see the frown lines around his eyes and mouth growing deeper every day. If you didn't pay attention to how many hours he spent just pacing, pacing. If you didn't notice, as I didn't at the time, that he hardly seemed to leave the house anymore, or that when he did go out, it was with twice as many bodyguards as before. "It's amazing," he says to us. "The satellite dish still works, through it all. Everything else out there has gone to hell, but just look at that resolution. Programs from the other side of the world—the best technology money can buy."
    In hindsight, perhaps he should have been paying closer...

About the Author-

  • J. C. CARLESON is a former undercover CIA officer who has navigated war zones, jumped out of airplanes, and worked on the frontlines of international conflicts. She now lives and writes in Virginia with her husband and two young sons. Her previous publications include the novel Cloaks and Veils, and Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 31, 2014
    When her Middle Eastern dictator father was killed in a coup, Laila, her mother, and her younger brother flee the country. Now a teenager, Laila must adapt to life in the U.S. as her family tries to recover from its loss of power. Laila is slowly adapting to her new life, but her mother longs to return to the life she left behind. And now, Laila must decide what her future holds. Narrator Simhan turns in a solid performance in this audio edition. She provides Laila an appropriate Middle-Eastern accent and her tone reflects that of a teenager acclimating to a new culture. But Simhan shines brightest during the book’s moments of tension, generating a subtle range of emotions. Add in a fine performance from Benard, and the result is an audio edition that makes for compelling listening. Ages 12–up. A Knopf hardcover

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from November 18, 2013
    Filled with political intrigue and emotional tension, Carleson’s riveting novel features a teenage refugee caught in a web of deceit and conspiracy. Fifteen-year-old Laila grew up believing she was a princess and that her younger brother, Bastien, was heir to the throne. After her father’s assassination, however, when her family flees to the United States, she learns that the world views her father as a cruel dictator (“ ‘Repressive regime,’ that damning alliteration, chases him throughout the newspapers like a dog nipping at his heels”). Carleson dramatically illustrates Laila’s culture shock in a suburb of Washington, D. C., not knowing whether she can trust her friendly American classmates or if she should befriend fellow refugees resentful of her father’s power. She is even unsure about her own mother, whose secret telephone conversations and sporadic financial windfalls make Laila suspicious. The heroine’s homeland is never named, but readers will find it easy to draw parallels to current events. Raising as many questions as answers about Laila’s fate, the novel challenges
    social values close to home and abroad. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jessica Regel, Foundry Literary + Media.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from December 15, 2013
    A teenage girl from an unnamed Middle Eastern country attempts to come to terms with her dictator father's bloody legacy in this absorbing character-driven novel authored by a former CIA official. Fifteen-year-old Laila lives in a shabby apartment outside of Washington, D.C., with her mother and little brother. She misses her homeland, but return is impossible since her uncle had her father assassinated and took control of the government. "I'm half Here. I'm half There. I'm a girl divided, which is to say I'm no one at all." While her mother schemes with both American officials and rebels from their country to remedy their untenable situation, Laila reluctantly begins to enjoy the simple freedoms of school and friendships. But worrisome thoughts of her mother's secretive phone calls and the mysterious CIA agent who lurks around their apartment are never far from her mind. And how will she ever reconcile what she now knows about her father the dictator with the loving man who raised her? Carleson shrewdly makes what has become a sadly familiar story on the evening news accessible by focusing on the experiences of one innocent girl at the center of it. Laila is a complex and layered character whose nuanced observations will help readers better understand the divide between American and Middle Eastern cultures. Smart, relevant, required reading. (author's note, commentary, further reading) (Fiction. 13 & up)

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    March 1, 2014

    Gr 9 Up-Growing up in an unidentified Middle Eastern country, Laila had no reason to question her parents' narrative-her father was king, and her privileged life was one afforded by birthright. That changes, however, when her father is killed in a coup, and she, her younger brother, and their mother flee the family's palace compound with aid from the U.S. government. Now in a suburb of Washington, DC, the 15-year-old is exposed for the first time to a Western view of both her homeland and father. The news reports of a tyrant whose regime was responsible for atrocities against its people are at odds with her memories of a loving parent. A devastated Laila, realizing that "his was an authority based more on bloodshed than blood right," begins to question all that she's been told. Laila struggles to adjust to American life; Carleson portrays her peers as rather flat in order to underscore Laila's emotional distance from other teens. Although Laila's mother is still embroiled in dealings with the CIA, this smart, complex novel refrains from falling into clandestine spy tropes and deftly shows that innocents get caught on both sides of any conflict. The concluding pages leave Laila's story open-ended, but readers will hope that the teen's good nature continues to prevail.-Amanda Mastrull, School Library Journal

    Copyright 2014 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • DOGO Books minz_mouse - This book is for the older audience, but also can be for tweens, due to some suggestive material. The book tours you through the life of Laila. Everything is new to her, from homecoming dances to cereal. It really shows how life can vary if you aren't from the US. The author does a great job of also incorporating high school life into this, and does a great job throughout the book.
  • Booklist

    February 1, 2014
    Grades 9-12 Removed from her unnamed Middle Eastern country after her father is murdered during a coup, 15-year-old Laila is now living near Washington D. C. with her mother and brother. In addition to navigating an American high school, Laila tries to act as guardian to her younger brother, Bastien, now the King of Nowhere, and as her mother's spy by getting close to Amir, a teenage boy from her country involved in the resistance. Laila is a strong narrator, expressing her feelings about American dress and social interactions in ways that will get readers thinking. Being raised in the palace, Laila was immune to many of the difficulties of life in her country and never saw her father as a dictator or harsh ruler, raising a very real question about the children of world leaders: Do they see their parents as the world sees them? This is more than just Laila's story; rather, it is a story of context, beautifully written (by a former undercover CIA agent), and stirring in its questions and eloquent observations about our society and that of the Middle East.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • Suzanne Fisher Staples, Newbery Honor-winning author of Shabanu

    "This story is important on so many levels. It invites readers to contemplate paradox and contradictions in ways that few books do: how a friend's loyalty trumps her annoying habits; how you can love your country and still be honest about its shortcomings; how betrayal might be justifiable. But mostly it's a touching, suspenseful story about two children who don't belong anywhere. Every American should read this book. It's an eye-opener."

  • Dana Reinhardt, award-winning author of The Things a Brother Knows "It's a story both foreign and familiar, global and intimate. A tense chess game where you'll think you know the final moves only to learn you've been outsmarted."

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    Random House Children's Books
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