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Empress of the World Hardcover – August 27, 2001

85 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While the characters in this first novel are not fully developed and the dialogue often feels clunky, Ryan nonetheless surpasses many of the trappings of stereotypical gay teen representations. At a summer school program for the gifted, anthropology student Nicola, or "Nic," pens everything in her "field notes," from over-scripted exchanges with her dimensionless new friends, like outspoken redhead Katrina and spacey music student Kevin ("It's like we're in a chat room and he's got a really slow connection") to painfully detailed descriptions of their clothes. Nic's driving need to label everything wears at her fledgling relationship with Southern belle Battle (tension comes to a head on their "two-week anniversary"). Ryan is to be applauded for taking this story beyond an identity struggle; at story's end, Nic is unsure if she is a lesbian or bisexual, but she comes to accept her feelings without having to label herself, and learns to tolerate outsiders' judgments. Mostly she grapples with the ordinary drama and traumas of teen romance. Ryan also does not shy away from describing the physical relationship between Nic and Battle (though nothing beyond kissing is made explicit). Her story unfolds slowly and, ultimately ends up feeling unpolished, but many teens will be drawn to the subject matter, and Nic herself is an appealing heroine. Ages 12-up.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Grade 9 Up-Written with understanding, humor, and heart, this first novel explores a teen love relationship bounded by time, inexperience, and an enclosed community setting. Nicola goes away to a summer program for gifted students, expecting to explore her interest in archaeology while also continuing her artwork. On the very first day, she is attracted to another girl, but she refuses to be labeled as a lesbian because she thinks she's also attracted to boys. And that is the rub with which Nic is faced in this realistically flowing plot: she thinks and analyzes everything she feels, everything others say to her, things left unsaid. This, rather than the gender orientation of her first serious relationship-which does unfold, collapse, and then bloom again before summer's end-is what she learns about herself. Ryan places Nic not only in a romantic relationship with a girl who herself is willing to explore sexuality with a girl and a boy in the same summer-school period, but also in credible friendships with an evidently straight girl and a couple of straight boys. The strength of this novel lies in this interweaving of types of partnerings: the ones driven by desire, those driven by respect for emotional understanding, and others that teens undertake for reasons-frustratingly for Nic-that simply can't be analyzed. These characters seem to breathe in their realism, and the setting of a secluded campus, inhabited by brainy teens for a couple of months, is evoked in sensual detail.
Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Juvenile (August 27, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670896888
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670896882
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,073,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sara Ryan is the author of the novels The Rules for Hearts and Empress of the World, and of various comics and short stories on themes including but not limited to teen angst, Hellboy, joining the military, the 1962 escape from Alcatraz, and circuses. Her first graphic novel, Bad Houses, with art by Carla Speed McNeil, is forthcoming from Dark Horse Comics.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By N. Kline on August 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
Publisher's Weekly is usually a reliable, objective source, which makes the review above all the more disturbing: this is one of the most competently written & deftly characterized young adult novels for lesbians I've seen in a long while. (I've been reading such books for 30+ years.) It's a shame the review is so out of step with the book's tone, given how influential it gets to be just by virtue of sitting here, on Amazon. The reviewer claims the characters are flat & the dialogue 'over-scripted' (huh? oh please) yet gives only 1 (very peripheral) example--which in context works quite well, as it happens. And as for "painfully detailed descriptions of their clothes"--I'd bet money the (anonymous) reviewer was a man: this is a book about teenaged girls, hello?

Ryan's characters are both distinct and quite believable; the language she uses is specific to each character, a pretty impressive accomplishment for any book but especially a Y/A one; and the (fairly low-key) trials of the two lead girls feel real without the tedious melodrama of so much teen writing. It's a refreshing and well-told story with a credible ending: as a debut novel, it's terrific. This business about 'one-dimensional' characters strikes me as either a writer so unfamiliar with the genre he had no business reviewing this, or as just plain old poorly-masked homophobia: if you don't want to read about gay teens then... don't. If you do, give this book a try--especially if you're interested in writing about Y/A lesbian subject matter. Heaven knows such books are and remain scarce on the ground. This is one of the good ones.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Iris A. McLeary on April 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
...Not many writers could write a first novel this beautiful and touching. The characters are all totally believable wonderfully three-dimensional, from manic, computer obsessed, nicotene addict Katrina to genius composer Kevin to San Francisco Jew Isaac they all have theirstengths and weaknesses and many-faceted personalities.
And it's about two girls... who FALL IN LOVE. With each other. And Sara Ryan manages to tread on this dificult territory without making the book sound dumb or preachy, something very difficult to pull off.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Zoi FTF, 13 on June 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book at [a local store] thinking it looked alright, but really, it was so much more for me than just "an enjoyably read." The discription is almost magical in that it is stark, not wordy or "lacey" but simple, getting the point accross simply and elegantly. It doesn't shy away from anything; it's confronting and outspoken, something i like. something i noticed and appreciated were the small little details of the main character's thought process, for instamce, "I look at the carpet. It's dull gray with black diamonds. Probably they picked it because it wouldn't show the dirt. I wonder how many diamonds there are per square foot." This remark would seem desultory and entirely non-sequitorial, but actually, it demonstrates quite well what you you do when you're awkward: you hook on to the nearest most insignificant thing possible, and become apparently inerested. things like this in writing enforce a kinship with the book from the reader; if the author uses experiences that aren't strangely far from our own experience, then the reader can sympathize, understand, and get more enjoyment out of the book. Though the plot may seem sad or daunting sometimes, there is never a failing of comic releif; again stark, simple, and allowing the reader to empathize. this book is wonderful, addressing highly argued issues, (issues that need to be addressed and thought about!!) in a way that isn't boringly and passively diplomaitc, but not altogether with a "you are stupid, i am right" attitude either. this is one of those books that enables you to get more out of life. it is an understatement to say i reccomend it!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Yggdrasil on September 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Sara Ryan makes her literary debut in this refreshing teen novel about a girl's summer fling with another female student during college courses. Nic, the 16-year old protagonist, isn't sure of anything in her life: she's never had any close friends and she's not sure what she wants to be when she grows up (archaeologist or no?). And when Nic starts having feelings for blonde, beautiful Battle, things only get more confusing. Isn't she supposed to fall for GUYS? Coupled with confusions over her sexuality are Nic's fears about discrimination from homophobes and her exasperation in helping two heterosexual friends hook up.
While "Empress of the World" makes for an interesting, light summer read, I can't say it's a fantastic book. The action is a bit too breezy and "fluff" to thorougly enjoy, and the reasoning behind some character's actions isn't explained. The plot isn't that engaging, but it's still great to find a novel that forages into the new territory of teenage homosexuality. It's sure to at least help answer a few people's perplexed questions about their own orientation. However, the best part of the book is that there are no easy answers, thus making it seem all the more realistic.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Evergreen Student on December 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
Everyone's heard of the teacher that, come September, makes you write an essay about your summer break. Still more know about the paperbacks chronicling summer romance and heartaches. In this artfully crafted novel, Sara Ryan explores the difficulties that arise as today's teens try to figure out their true identities.
Ryan presents the reader with the usual plot - teen goes to summer camp, teen falls in and out of love while at summer camp - but the unique main characters keep one by turn giggling uncontrollably and sobbing as if the world will soon end. Nicola Lancaster, an artistically inclined teen and an aspiring archaeologist, is carted off to The Siegel Summer Institute for Gifted Adolescents. Instead of confirming her career choice, Nicola is forced to realize that the world isn't always so predictable after she falls in love with one of her female compatriots - a subject the author treats with a completely unbiased sense of tact. The captivating, uncannily realistic dialogue is truly the work of a master who knows what they're doing.
All students attend a preliminary assembly before camp. Nicola's seatmates become instant friends - particularly a unique girl named Battle. Battle, a native of North Carolina, has a preacher for a father, a "slight sweet drawl," and a torn family that has had more than its share of loss. The more time Nicola and Battle spend together, the more they realize that they aren't just friends, they're soul mates.
Ryan weaves her elegant plot through a mixture of Nicola's life and her diary entries, adding bit by bit the various intricacies of teenage summers, culminating in a fully developed world just waiting to be explored. The need for editing is barely apparent.
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