Welp, this was ambitious.
A YA intrigue about a middle-eastern girl thrust into the US during a time of upheaval in her homeland because her father, the country's leader, was murdered by trusted members of their inner circle.
Not only was it ambitious as a YA title, but it had great potential. This could be really good YA, and unique - a breath of fresh air. A portrait of middle-eastern wealth adjusting to a new brand of indulgence in the US, where money buys power of an entirely different sort and the freedoms can be overwhelming? I signed up! (thanks netgalley!)
That's not exactly what happens in the book though. I feel like I over-imagined my expectations. It's way more subtle...and by subtle I mean it lacked in execution.
Here's my biggest gripe, I'll just get it out of the way. Laila's voice didn't seem very authentic. She was brave when she should have been timid, timid when she should have been inquisitive, and acted stupidly during times when she most certainly should have been more worldly. I was hoping for more of an insight into the differences between her world, growing up under a regime leader in a very religiously conservative middle-eastern country, and the typical US teenager world. Unfortunately, what we got was Laila taking everything in stride, from dressing provocatively in her first school dance and twerking, to her complete understanding and sympathy to her new BFF's parents divorce situation. I find this hard to believe from a teenager who, only months before, saw her father murdered and is basically living in day-to-day survival mode.
And the unrealistic easy acceptance goes both ways. Laila, someone who barely knows how to operate the internet, is quickly befriended and girlfriend-ed in a matter of minutes. Never mind the fact that she's completely dazed and that English is her 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) language. She's just taken in and protected by the fearless Emmy and her band of friends, to include the handsome, popular and jovial, Ian.
Now. What bothers me about this is that other than the fact that Laila is a novelty, I get no real reason why she would be so easily assimilated into a group of US teenagers OTHER then the fact that Laila is described as beautiful. Really? It's that easy huh?
Okay, that aside (even though it's roughly half of the book, and misses the mark), the political intrigue portion of the book is much better. It comprises the second half of the book, it's more fantastical, and definitely more interesting. I felt like it was plotted well and paced much better than the first half. It's where I started seeing the potential of what this book could have been.
Laila's blindfold is stripped away and she learns painful truths about her family and her country, but has a unique opportunity to make a difference.
Overall, I thought the first half was a 2 star read and the second a 4 star. I could go on to talk about the jarring first person pov at times, but I could also say that there was a subtlety in that that made me think that I was listening to someone who was speaking English as a second language. I could say that most all of Laila's interactions with her mother felt rather forced and awkward, but there truly where two scenes where I felt there was truth in the dialogue between them and I felt moved. So, I'm going to call it here (because I'm tired and could talk myself into circles)...3 stars.