A teenage girl from an unnamed Middle Eastern country attempts to come to terms with her dictator father’s bloody legacy in this absorbing character-driven novel authored by a former CIA official.
Fifteen-year-old Laila lives in a shabby apartment outside of Washington, D.C., with her mother and little brother. She misses her homeland, but return is impossible since her uncle had her father assassinated and took control of the government. “I’m half Here. I’m half There. I’m a girl divided, which is to say I’m no one at all.” While her mother schemes with both American officials and rebels from their country to remedy their untenable situation, Laila reluctantly begins to enjoy the simple freedoms of school and friendships. But worrisome thoughts of her mother’s secretive phone calls and the mysterious CIA agent who lurks around their apartment are never far from her mind. And how will she ever reconcile what she now knows about her father the dictator with the loving man who raised her? Carleson shrewdly makes what has become a sadly familiar story on the evening news accessible by focusing on the experiences of one innocent girl at the center of it. Laila is a complex and layered character whose nuanced observations will help readers better understand the divide between American and Middle Eastern cultures.
Smart, relevant, required reading. (author’s note, commentary, further reading) (Fiction. 13 & up)