After I read The Kite Runner, I began to read more books about how people are treated in parts of the world that I didn’t know very much about. In the beginning, I was stunned. After a while, though, my senses began to dull and I had to stop reading so many books on a similar theme — because it was making the problems seem sickeningly common, and hopelessly insurmountable.
So, I hadn’t been in this part of the world for a while, where the women are veiled and the men rule. This time, there was a difference. The story was told through the eyes of a 15 year-old-girl. The author took what I believe to be the perfect “What if?” premise, and used that as the basis for his story. The question, “What if your father is one of the world’s cruelest dictators in the world, and you have no idea?” What if you think you live in the palace, and your father is the benevolent king? What if your whole life has been lived inside sheltered walls, and you know very little about your “kingdom”; much less about the rest of the world? The brilliance of the premise made this story especially compelling. We meet our 15-year old protagonist, Laila, when her mother is seeking asylum in the US for the family following her father’s assassination. Her vulnerability and her naivety are almost overwhelming. Her ignorance of our culture is almost as great as ours is of hers.
She did not lead the type of life we might expect from a third world country; her life was built on a foundation of privilege and a strict class system. When this system is turned on it’s head in America, she does not have the social skills to deal with it. The author, J.C. Carleson, never actually divulges the name of the country she is from.
I think this book was skillfully written. Carleson, a former CIA agent, has a lot of interesting information to share, including additional notes at the end of the book. Despite the fact that Laila narrates the story, there is an awful lot of time devoted to her mother, which I think slows down the action. Since this is a YA book, I wanted more information on the teenagers, and less about the adult drama. Some of the other teenagers were roughly drawn, and seemed to have a lot of pat answers to weighty topics. Overall, though, I thought it was an important book that gave a unique perspective to a culture I think is difficult to understand. It gave a human face to the victim, the next generation in countries ruled by oppression.