Wednesday, February 19, 2014

{ARC Review} The Tyrant's Daughter: J.C. Carleson

Rating: 8.75/10
Series: Standalone (at least to my knowledge)
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Publication Date: February 11, 2014
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Page Count: 304
Source: Netgalley
Format: e-ARC

Goodreads Synposis:
From a former CIA officer comes the riveting account of a royal Middle Eastern family exiled to the American suburbs.

When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?

J.C. Carleson delivers a fascinating account of a girl—and a country—on the brink, and a rare glimpse at the personal side of international politics. 

*I received this book as a digital ARC which does not in the slightest affect my honest review of this book*
*All opinions are my own, and I am not trying to criticize the Middle East and their culture or religion. These are my personal thoughts. I truly hope I do not offend anyone with certain statements in this review* 

My Background: I had actually been invited to review this title by Netgalley, and even though my approval ratio is already so low, I couldn't resist this book because of how interesting the plot sounded. Shortly after, I read Fiction_TheNewReality's review of it, and knew I had to read it, but because of blog tours and my social life (yes, one does exist), I haven't been able to get to it. Boy, do I regret that decision. Let me prove to you how good of a book this is. I woke up at 5:30am this morning to finish it after staying up until 10:30 last night to read it. This may sound freakishly early to some of you, but if I get less than 8 hours of sleep, you don't want to talk to me. Anyway, the book was that good. I spent the entirety of Tuesday wishing I had it with me, and was cursing that it was an e-book. There are two ironic things about me and this book. The first is that I had written an essay for school on Syria and the chemical warfare going on over there and the troubles between Assad, Putin, and Obama. The second is that a Muslim speaker had recently visited my church (long story) and I had learned a lot of Islam, especially the barriers between male and female.

Plot 8/10: I loved the plot, and it kept my interest 98% of the time I was reading. What I really wanted to see more of was A) more about her home country (which is never named in my version) B) more about her religion and its restraints C) more of the cultural shock D) more about the revolts and personal accounts and losses. Any blogger who has already read this is probably about to hunt me down with a flaming pitchfork and try to talk some sense into me. I am not saying that A, B, and C weren't present in the story, because it certainly was explained and described, no doubt about that. I wasn't as affected as I believe some readers would be, having written the report and had the speaker come to my church, so that would be one of the factors. I am sure that if those two had not happened, then I would be busy rambling about how eye-opening, thought-provoking, and life-changing this book was. 
While this book wasn't supposed to go in-depth describing her country and her past, as it was about her transition into American-ism, I still wanted more information about what had happened. I also think that because it was the Tyrant's daughter that had to move, and not some refugee, that the main character wasn't as doe-eyed at the cultural change, which is what I think I kind of wanted to see. 
Laila does talk about how different society was in her country, especially the border between female and male, but because she had never known anything different, she wasn't missing or longing for another life or another fate, as a lot of characters do in this type of book would. When Laila does explain it to some of her acquaintances she makes in America, they don't understand, besides them being privileged teenagers-like we all are-I also credit that to her not contrasting and comparing the differences between the two cultures, instead of just saying what it was like.

Lastly, I am aware that in real life (forget about the book for a moment) that the events in this story are happening. There is chemical warfare going on. There is backstabbing, lying, and viciousness. There are people dying each day in hopes that it will impact the future they want their children to have. There are thousands of stories about the little girl or boy that lost their only living relatives to the horribleness that's going on in their country right now. I don't want to read about the bloodshed, I don't even necessarily want to cry. I wanted to be touched by a story that was raw and real.

As the reader's we got a very different story than what I had expected and hoped for, but that is a good thing. Some people might think that Laila was desperately trying to fit in, and become a part of something. I completely understand this, the desire to have a place where you belong is something that all teenagers feel. I am treating this story like an adventure of self-discovery. Laila learns so much from the American perspective of her country, and the picture that is painted for all 50 states. Laila was so oblivious to her father and his evil deeds. She was offended, as anybody would be, when it came to what the news, and her peers thought about her country. When she stepped outside her front door, she was an American. She went to school. She spoke English. She had her first tastes of friendship and romance. When she came back inside, everything changed. There was conspiracy against her blood relatives, and plots to kill them going on five feet away through thin bedroom walls. In the end, it was up to Laila to sort out what she thought was true, what she believed in, and what she was going to do with that information.
Characters 6.9/10: As the main character herself, I LOVED Laila. If I were talking about her characteristics, then not so much. Laila's "fatal flaw" (as Rick Riordan would put it) was her goodness. She was kind, compassionate, and empathetic. Everything a good main character should be. And because of it...she could be thought of as weak. Laila is no Katniss Everdeen or Beatrice Prior when it comes to strength of character. But when in America, she realizes that she can take control of her life, and her decisions which makes her stronger than any of those characters combined.

Title 2/10: The title of this book makes perfect sense, hands-down, no questions asked. But...I didn't like it. 
Yes, it fit the mood. 
Yes, it fit the plot. 
Yes, it fit the theme. 
No, I did not like it.
I believe the title didn't reflect the aspect that it should have; Leila. The story was all about Leila and her integration to modern American society, along with the trials and tribulations of being thrown into a culture so very different from her own. I believe the title should have been the kind of those one-worders that really made you think, and wonder what the story was about, or the kind that made you know exactly what the story was about like Speak, Defiance, Breathe, etc. As I explained, when I said what I wished to see more of, there wasn't enough focus on her father's country. So in my mind, I think it was wrong to give him the spotlight. This book is about Leila's journey of self-discovery and change, and being a tyrant's daughter does not affect it.

Cover 4/10: When I showed my mom the cover of The Tyrant's Daughter, You Are Mine, and Peaceful Genocide. she said I should go with The Tyrant's Daughter because she is really interested in Historical Fiction (and the cover of Peaceful Genocide freaked her out). What she, and others should know is that this is not a historical fiction novel. The main character comes from the Middle East, there is description of her life and past there, but next to none of the story takes place in the Middle East. While I think the cover was fitting, it did give the wrong impression.

Pacing 9/10: This will sound weird, but I love short chapters. Of course I don't want to read a book where scenes only last three pages, and the action abruptly stops (similar to the Maze Runner). But I just like short chapters to be interspersed in with long ones. The Tyrant's Daughter was perfect. There were long chapters 15+ pages, with short ones at the exact times they were needed. For example, a lot of the action is somewhat hurried, especially when Leila reacted to something, which triggered 2-5 short one-page chapters that I think were the perfect decision for the book.

Ending 8/10: In my opinion, The Tyrant's Daughter had an ending people will love or hate. I, myself, didn't like it. There was a huge WTF climax moment that my ELA teacher would have loved. To me, it felt a little but too formula. The last sentence that came back full-circle to the first sentence which I personally didn't like. Especially because of the note it left with us as the readers, without spoiling the ending, I will say that the last sentence does not resonate with me the message that I think the author was trying to portray.
Quotes 10/10: I loved the quotes in this book, but I can't put the ones I liked up on the site because they would need to be checked up against the finished book. All I can say is that I have almost 30 annotations on my Kindle from when I was reading it, and there were so many thought-provoking ones that I would kill to have the talent to write (is that grammatically correct?). 
Conclusion: This will be one of the best books I will read in 2014 because of how much it made me think and how much I had to say. Laila goes through an extraordinary journey of self-discovery and learns that she has the power to make herself visible.  

*You might be wondering why I put this as an ARC review because the book is already out, but to me, as long as it's an ARC, it's an ARC review regardless of publication*

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