Laila is the daughter of the ruler of an unnamed Middle Eastern country. She does have a good life, one that includes trips to Paris with her mother, a private tutor and a resort by the sea. Then one day, her world turns upside down: there’s an uprising and her father is assassinated.
Suddenly Laila, her mother and her younger brother Bastian are refugees, fleeing (with the help of the CIA) to the United States. Even though they’re basically well off, we never forget that Laila is a refugee, especially as she’s thrown into a society that is vastly different from her own. And, on top of that, as she meets other (poorer) refugees from her country, she discovers that the person she saw as a loving father was in reality a brutal dictator.
I think the publishers are billing this as a thriller — J. C. Carleson is a former CIA operative, after all — but it’s really not one at all. It’s really one girl’s story of an awakening of sorts, and the harsh realities that brings, as well as of the plight of immigrants (especially those from war-torn countries) and how difficult it is to make a home in a strange place. Although she makes friends in her Washington, D.C., school, Laila never quite belongs in this country and is uncomfortable with little things: from wearing short skirts to a dance to the nonchalance the other students show to a bomb threat at school. Laila is constantly a fish out of water, and I think Carleson captures that perfectly.
Even so, there are some thriller-like elements to the story. Laila’s mom is a constant schemer, and there’s always a CIA guy ominously hanging around. I felt the ending was a bit too tidy and didn’t quite fit in with the direction of the rest of Laila’s story. But, for the most part, it was a fascinating exploration of one girl’s attempt to come to terms with her father and the outside world, and to find out where she belongs in all of the turmoil.
Rated: Mild for some violence, all off screen, as well as some mild language.