The Tyrant's Daughter was last modified: November 2nd, 2015 by Jenny Sawyer
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Posted on by Jenny Sawyer
Title: The Hired Girl
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Title: Bellweather Rhapsody
Author: Kate Racculia
Author: J.C. Carleson
Genre: Fiction (YA, realistic)
Year published: 2014
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Length: 304 timely, compelling pages
For Laila, life divides neatly between past and present. Past meant a dull, albeit spoiled, existence in the walled garden of her life as the daughter of a Middle Eastern dictator. Present means adjusting to her status as refugee–a curiosity in her American school, a persona non grata in her own country, and a girl pulled between her mother’s desire to regain her father’s throne, and her own desires for normalcy, safety, and happiness.
Laila is an observer. A survivor. She negotiates the landmines of her new culture with the same grace with which she navigates a treacherous, often fraught relationship with her grasping mother. In both worlds, it’s Laila’s keen observations–occasionally wise beyond her years–in combination with her surprising resilience, that allow her to begin feeling confident in her new world, even as she’s forced to face, and come to terms with, the secrets of her old one.
I love books that peer into the hidden worlds of closed communities–cults, jails, and in this case, the walls of a Middle Eastern dictator’s castle. Except, when we first meet protagonist Laila, she’s been cast out of the castle and out of her country. A refugee in the US, she’s as far from royalty as you can get, living in a slummy apartment with her mother and little brother, while her evil uncle holds court back home.
What we see of Laila’s history, then, comes as she compares past and present–reconciling her new world to her old one, her new ways to her old ways, her new reality to a past she will never reclaim. I especially loved Laila’s reactions to the everyday American things I take for granted–the freezer-like chill of air conditioning, for example. Or the overwhelming variety of cereals on the shelves in the grocery store.
The Tyrant’s Daughter would be a compelling story even if it didn’t also teach cultural awareness. But perhaps what it does best is reflect on a culture many readers will be unfamiliar with, while at the same time, holding up for reflection our own culture, with all its vices, quirks, and joys.