What a terrible book.
J.C. Carleson has the writing style down, there’s no doubt that she can write, what she lacks is believability, story line, and passion.
When I read the blurb on NetGalley I was expecting a fictional true life story. Even if those events never happened and it was alternate reality fiction I still wanted it to be based somewhat on truth.
The biggest issue for me was not knowing what country Laila and her family was from. That made a lot of the logical things stand out for me, like the CIA helping the royal family escape to America but then leaving them with no money to live on. That didn’t seem remotely believable to me, and was then negated when Laila found the proof of the multiple bank accounts around the world holding onto her family’s fortune.
Culture, culture, culture was the second thing for me. Under no circumstances would a muslim girl come to America and a) claim to be not religious b) not wear her hajib anymore c) wear revealing clothing and grope on a dance floor d) not defend her country or her family e) have a relationship with a boy not of her culture and f) speak with those from her country who consider themselves her enemy.
At first I was trying to see into Laila’s world but the more I poked at it the more I saw the holes, the flimsy world building, and all the lies the author was feeding us. I realized about 25% into the book that this was not based on something that actually happened.
And the complaints continue. The minor complaints made me want to scream on a very crowded airplane. HIJAB! Muslim women wear HIJABS and not once did J.C. Carleson refer to it as such. She kept referring to it as a veil. It’s not a veil.
Secondly, Laila spoke like an American girl most of the time. There was no hints as to how her accent sounded, only that she had an accent. I hate to say it but everyone has an accent, you need to be more specific so the readers can read her words properly. When Rainbow Rowell wrote Eleanor & Park, she not only explained Park’s mom was Korean, but also outlined the way Park’s mom spoke, and wrote the mother’s dialogue in such a way that as a reader I was hearing Mrs. Kim’s voice (Gilmore Girls) in my mind.
J.C. Carleson included an author’s note in the back of the book which basically blew my mind. Carleson explained her trips to the middle east, her inspiration for the book and her choices to not include the name of the country because for this story she drew from many countries in the middle east.
The author’s note solves all of my complaints. The story isn’t believable because Carleson isn’t middle eastern. Laila seemed American because again Carleson is not middle eastern. Laila did a pile of things no middle eastern princess would ever do because again, Carleson isn’t muslim. (I think the groping on the dance floor thing was the biggest OMG moment for me.) The accents were undefined because Carleson obviously forgot about the readers. The word “hajib” was horrifyingly missed because Carleson didn’t bother to look it up.
What this boils down to is a whole lot of ignorance. Carleson was inspired to write a story centering around a middle eastern princess, without actually knowing what it’s like to be a middle eastern princess. She fails to put together a story that’s believeable, poignant and that actually opens our eyes about the problems the middle east is facing.
Visiting a country isn’t the same thing as being brought up in that country and it certainly doesn’t give someone the right to blatantly disrespect that culture or that country. Maybe Carleson didn’t realize that there’s a lot of violence, political and religious differences between the factions of middle eastern people and that creating a character with conflicting traits from all of these cultures might offend some people.