Disclaimer: I was auto-approved for an ARC via Netgalley.
I do not know why I was auto approved for an ARC of this book. While I do, occasionally, read Young Adult work, there are far more proficient readers of YA and children books than me out there. Anyway, I’m glad I did get auto approved for this book.
To me, rightly or wrongly, young adult novels with a girl on the cover equal special snowflake torn between two boys, one of whom is jerk. This is not the case in this novel. At all. Laila might be a special snowflake but that is down to politics. A book like this reminds everyone what children’s literature can and should be.
Laila, her mother, and her brother have fled to America after the murder of her father, a dictator or ruler of an unnamed Islamic kingdom somewhere else on the globe. Carlson’s plot is inspire not only by the Arab Spring but also by the states of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. The family tries to adjust to a change in circumstances and culture.
For Laila this adjustment includes coming to terms with who her father actually was, what he may or may not have done as well as adjusting to the new American culture. For her mother, it means struggling not only finances but with something else, darker than Laila struggles to make out over the course of the book.
There isn’t a love triangle in this book. There is love and desire, panting and smooching, but there isn’t a love triangle. The book is more about a journey of self discovery and about making the current events more relevant and important to the younger generation.
What I really enjoyed about this book, besides the fact that Laila is not perfect, is flawed, and does struggle, is that she gets friends. She learns to make friends and care for friendships. Her girlfriends are not her rivals, but her friends. Additionally, there is a parallel between Laila and her family, and what happens to Emmy and hers. In many ways, Carlson not only introduces a reader to the “other” but makes it okay to ask questions to understand another culture. It is not done in a heavy handed way. The characters are so well drawn that the interactions come across as completely natural.
Perhaps, the plot involving Laila's mother and the CIA (this is hardly spoiler as it is mentioned in the book blurb) is a bit far fetch, by Carlson accounts for that by showing how Laila may or may not know her mother, the hints at what her mother may be aware of it.
Strangely, the struggle of a girl’s coming to terms of her families political past works beautifully with all the struggles that teenagers go though. This does not mean that any of them are trivialized. They are not and all are handed with tact – the only, understandable and real exception is the use of the bomb scare. It makes the story powerful and allows for the outsider (i.e. a Western) to enter into Laila's world and not feel guilty because their problems are not as bad.
The writing in general is compelling and there are some wonderful details – like Laila’s reaction upon meeting Emmy, the comparison of Cinderella stories, Bastien’s reaction to cereal. Carlson knows her subject. While marketed for children/young adults, the novel can easily be read by adults. Furthermore, it would make a great reading for any class, raising questions of morality, culture, history, perspective, and violence.