This is another book I initially got from NetGalley and then lost track of and missed the window on. From the description, I can tell what would have appealed to me–the story untold, the repercussions of a parent’s generation on their children. And especially in a place as politically charged as the Middle East, this is a powerful topic.
Unfortunately, the story lacks a bit of the punch I believe it could have had.
The book is in short, bite-sized chapters, much like journal entries, which suits the storytelling flow perfectly. We follow the daughter of a political leader in the Middle East–the country is never specified–who has been assassinated (I believe) by an opposite power…her uncle. She, her brother Bastien, and their mother have fled to America in fear for their own lives. But America is not without its own challenges.
Not only is Laila having to worry about her family’s safety, her own struggles with the family and what’s happened, but now also she is the new and “exotic” kid in school. And as her fellow classmates get curious about who she is, it occurs to her that she may not know who her family was after all. But could he really be the terrible person she saw described in the news broadcasts and newspaper articles?
The book, unfortunately, wants to have too many plots in the fire. Laila and Bastien with their mother and the inter-family issues there, Laila’s female friends at school and the culture shock that is found there on both sides, a romantic fling between Laila and Ian, the introduction of Amir and his cousins, bringing some of the homeworld troubles back to them… And in Laila’s diary entry length chapters, I never feel like I see any of them to a decent conclusion. Everyone gets their five minutes of plot importance–and then the major conflict of the entire novel is solved in an ambiguous and unsatisfying way. It’s all very Greek theatre, offscreen and set where no one really knew what happened. This is unfortunate, since some of the sideline plots are more interesting and engaging than the main one.
The characters alone, however, are all very well written and developed; that much is clear. The author clearly did their research and painted a very real picture. And it does exactly what I hoped it would do: told the story of the character displaced by plot points beyond their control.
A relatively simple read, and maybe not one I would automatically recommend, but it might be a good book to use as a conversation piece with children, late middle school and higher, of how we view the Other, how we treat others, and what the rest of the world might look like from eyes like theirs, growing up in that area. Definitely worth a look.
Rating: *** – Worth a Look