by J. C. Carleson
First sentence: “My brother is the King of Nowhere.”
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Review copy downloaded from NetGalley
Content: Some mild language, and some indirect violence. It sits in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. I don’t know if I’d give it to a 5th grader or not. I think it depends on how news-savvy the kid is.
Laila is the daughter of the ruler of an unnamed Middle Eastern country. She has a good life — trips to Paris with her mother, a private tutor, a resort by the sea. Then one day her world turns upside down when her father is assassinated right before her eyes.
Suddenly Laila, her mother, and her younger brother, Bastian (the “little king”) are exiled, taking refuge in the United States as Laila’s fundamentalist uncle takes over the country. Not only is Laila exiled from her country, she’s thrown into a world that — for all the riches and opulence she was used to — is vastly different from her own. And, on top of that, as she meets other refugees from her country, she discovers that her loving father was actually a brutal dictator.
I think the publishers are billing this as a thriller — J. C. Carleson is a former CIA operative, after all — but it’s not. It’s much more one girl’s story of awakening, and the harsh realities that brings, as well as of the plight of immigrants and how difficult it is to make a new home. Although she makes friends in her Washington D. C. school, Laila never quite belongs here, being uncomfortable with little things: from wearing short skirts to the dance to the seeming nonchalance that the students have to a bomb threat. Laila is constantly a fish out of water, and I think Carleson captures that perfectly.
There are some thriller-esque elements; Laila’s mom is a constant schemer, and there’s a CIA guy hanging around ominously. And I felt the ending was a bit too pat, not quite fitting in with the rest of Laila’s story. But, for the most part, it was a fascinating exploration of one girl’s attempt to come to terms with her family and the outside world.