When a Teen’s Parent Really IS a Tyrant: A Good Book for Young Adults to Talk About

BookendsLynn: Teens often toss around words such as “tyrant” and “dictator” when describing a parent who has thwarted their plans—but what if a parent really WAS a tyrant, responsible for brutal punishments and the deaths of his countrymen? That’s the unusual premise of The Tyrant’s Daughter (2014).  Fifteen-year-old Laila used to live a cosseted life of luxury as the daughter of the “king” of a Middle Eastern country. After a coup and the assassination of her father by his own brother, Laila her mother and young brother narrowly escaped with the help of a CIA agent, and now live in a tiny apartment in a suburb of Washington D.C. and count their pennies. Laila is convinced her mother is scheming to return home, playing all sides and embroiling Laila in the intrigues.  Plots within plots, hidden motives, and suspicion propel the story as Laila wonders not only about the true nature of her father but also who, if anyone, she can trust.

Have they rounded up all the farmers and shot them?

tyrant's daughterI loved this intriguing story with its complex web of lies, plots, and counterplots. The politics are taken right out of the headlines and that plot alone keeps the pages turning. But Carleson puts a very human face on the human lives behind the news stories and that aspect gives the book a fascinating element. We see the story from Laila’s perspective as she clandestinely surfs the web, tracking down news stories about her father and learning the truth about the father she thought she knew. It’s fascinating to watch her navigate the swirling waters of her mother’s plots and slowly develop her own standards and plans for the future. Some of my favorite parts were Laila’s observations of American and teen culture. Often humorous, these observations are quite telling and certainly made me think. Bewildered by all the packaged food in the school cafeteria, she wonders where all the fresh food is. Have they rounded up all the farmers and shot them?

Fast paced and complex, this story keeps readers guessing the entire time, and watching Laila mature and take charge is as fascinating as figuring out who is pulling which string. Politics, different cultures and world views, women’s rights and personal responsibility are all in the mix. The ending generates interesting questions about what lies ahead and yet is also satisfying and believable. Here’s a book to give to teens who want something a bit different. I guarantee it will start a lot of discussion!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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