“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?”
When I first heard about this book (from an email from Netgalley), I didn’t have that much interest. Contemporary realism is not typically my kind of read. But then, I learned a little about the author. J.C. Carleson used to in fact be an undercover C.I.A. agent and used her knowledge and own experiences to write this novel about a fictional middle-eastern 15 year old girl uprooted to Washington D.C. Suddenly, I was intrigued and I’m glad I decided to read it because once I started, I was hooked and finished the novel late into the night. I had to see what happened to Laila in the midst of all this political intrigue and power plays.
I felt so inside Laila’s head that I could feel her pain, her confusion and uncomfortable introduction to the American lifestyle…
From the beginning, it was the first person voice of Laila that captured my interest. I felt so inside Laila’s head that I could feel her pain, her confusion and uncomfortable introduction to the American lifestyle (forced to leave her home after her father was assassinated). The characterization is rich and 3-dimensional. What I loved most about Laila is that she changes and grows. When we first meet her, she is naïve and doesn’t understand the terrible things her father has done. By the end of the novel, Laila knows who she is after choosing to face terrible truths. The uncovering of the truth really is a great way to show a young girl come of age. If you get drawn in by great characters, Laila will most certainly be difficult to ignore for long, Laila’s integration into American society such as learning about boys, dances, and even friends in the midst of all the politics, compelling stuff.
The plot, though not the main focus, is also intriguing. Who should Laila trust? What does this mysterious C.I.A. man really want from her mother and from her? And can she even trust her mother? When Laila begins to discover the wrongs of her family, can she step up and do what is right? Without giving too much away, the political reveals and emotional revelations will be as eye opening (although fictional, there is a lot of truth in the writing) to the reader as they are to Laila.
Even if you don’t typically read Young Adult or even children’s literature, give this novel a chance. It is fascinating and will hold you captivated right up to the last sentence. My main complaint (a personal nitpick) is that the story didn’t go down a romantic route that I kind of wanted it to go. Also, there were a few sections in the novel where the text go so into Laila’s head that I became distanced from the emotion. Still, I understood both creative choices and as a whole: the details, the description, the brilliant point of view, all make for a fabulous read, one that I highly recommend.
This is difficult because the book is so in Laila’s head. However, if the adaptation also focused on the other characters, the war, Shakespearean brotherly relationship in a struggle for power (flashbacks), mixed in with Laila as she discovers the truth, this would actually make a great film. In fact, if adapted, I would amp up the tension and even suspicion between characters. I would also recommend doing more scenes with Laila’s mother and her Uncle (the one who had Laila’s father killed) that would play out even more like a Shakespearean play than the book already does.
Page Count: 304 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (February 11, 2014)
Genre: Literary,Young Adult, Middle East, Children’s Literature, Realism