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Empress of the World

Empress of the World

4.3 107
by Sara Ryan

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Nicola Lancaster is spending her summer at the Siegel Institute, a hothouse of smart, intense teenagers. She soon falls in with Katrina (Manic Computer Chick), Isaac (Nice-Guy-Despite-Himself), Kevin (Inarticulate Composer) . . . and Battle, a beautiful blond dancer. The two become friends--and then, startlingly, more than friends. What do you do when you think you're


Nicola Lancaster is spending her summer at the Siegel Institute, a hothouse of smart, intense teenagers. She soon falls in with Katrina (Manic Computer Chick), Isaac (Nice-Guy-Despite-Himself), Kevin (Inarticulate Composer) . . . and Battle, a beautiful blond dancer. The two become friends--and then, startlingly, more than friends. What do you do when you think you're attracted to guys, and then you meet a girl who steals your heart? A trailblazing debut, reissued with an introduction by acclaimed author David Levithan, and copious back matter, including three graphic novel stories by Sara Ryan (and artists Steve Leiber, Dylan Meconis, and Natalie Nourigat) about the characters.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Both controversial and long-awaited, this helps to fill a need that is painfully obvious and introduces a wonderful new voice." -Kirkus Reviews
When lonely fifteen-year-old Nicola Lancaster arrives at a gifted youth summer program, she hopes to make friends and meet the boy of her dreams. Much to her delight, she immediately falls in with an eccentric group of kids—and, much to her surprise, she falls in love with the girl of her dreams, fellow student Battle Hall Davies. When the two start dating, Nic is overwhelmed by the realization that she's not who she always assumed she was. Is she straight, bisexual or a lesbian? While the dialogue is a little clunky and the characters are not well fleshed out, Ryan does a nice job of tapping into the questions a teenage girl might have about her budding sexuality.
—Kristin Kloberdanz
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. (Aug.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Fifteen-year-old Nic has always thought she wanted to be an archaeologist. In typical scientific fashion, she forms a hypothesis—"Taking an actual class in archaeology will serve to confirm Nicola Lancaster in her lifelong dream," and she conducts an experiment—enrolling in a summer-long institute for gifted teens. She doesn't know anyone there, but quickly makes friends with several other students, including Battle, the captivating girl with beautiful hair who caught her notice from the first. Nic quickly falls in love with her, and a relationship evolves that is both difficult and confusing, enthralling and deeply-felt. Each girl struggles to find the meaning of their relationship in her own way; each wonders if she is lesbian or bisexual, and confusion is only heightened by the negative reactions of their classmates. Ultimately, the story moves beyond this theme as the characters learn to accept their feelings and to disregard others' reactions to their relationship. Sara Ryan has aptly captured the hesitancy and feeling of first love in this open, honest summer romance. 2001, Viking, $15.99. Ages 12 to 16. Reviewer: Heidi Green
The setting for this first novel by Ryan is a college campus where gifted high school students gather for a summer program. Mostly misfits in their local communities, these teenagers find real friendship through the weeks of the studies. And they find love as well. Nicola (Nic) is interested in theater, music, and art—she also is fascinated by archeology and focuses on that, when she isn't totally distracted by her feelings toward Battle, a beautiful girl with a Southern drawl, a gifted dancer. Their love affair progresses from a tentative first kiss to sneaking out at night to be alone in the woods to have sex. Most of the plot centers on this first lesbian affair for each—their confusion, their joy, the misery when they break up, and so forth. Comic relief is provided in the character of Katrina, a computer person with a big mouth, who sounds perhaps far more experienced and precocious than she actually is. She is interested in Isaac, who is interested in her, but it takes some while for the two of them to connect. Katrina smokes with passion, swears of course, and talks about sex as though she were an experienced hooker. This inner group of friends has no problems about Battle and Nic's same-sex love affair, but there is some homophobia expressed by some peripheral characters. This novel will definitely appeal to gifted, articulate teenagers with liberal social values, like the characters in the story. Probably the masses of YA readers, the same ones who feel uneasy around fellow students like Nic, Battle, Isaac, and Katrina, won't feel too comfortable reading about them either. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, PenguinPutnam, Viking, 169p., $15.99. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; KLIATT , July 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 4)
The Siegel Institute Summer Program for Gifted Students has much to offer teenagers—the chance to live like college students for the summer, the opportunity to attend intellectually challenging classes, and the time to make friends with people who have similar interests and abilities. Nicola (Nic), who does not have many true friends, immediately bonds with Katrina, a carefree computer whiz; Isaac, a nice guy with family problems; and particularly with Battle, an attractive dancer. Nic and Battle feel an immediate rapport, and their relationship soon moves beyond friendship. Nic is both elated and puzzled by her first romance. Young adult librarian Ryan's debut novel is written from Nic's perspective in journal format. Dialogue and field notes are included to pique the reader's interest. Nic and her new friends seem real-smart, verbal kids who are not as confident as they try to appear. The conversations ring true as discussions range from whether ranch dressing is a food group to the idiosyncrasies of parents. Although the relationship between Nic and Battle is the focus of the novel, the other characters help keep the action moving. The Nic and Battle's romance has the usual breakup-and-makeup drama, with an ending that is unforced and natural. A more modern, less romantic story than Nancy Garden's Annie on My Mind (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1982/VOYA August 1982), this story will appeal to Annie's fans. Readers looking for a different kind of love story or those who enjoyed Marion Dane Bauer's short story collection, Am I Blue? (HarperCollins, 1994/VOYA August 1994), will also be drawn to Empress with its engaging story and eye-catching cover and format. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P J S(Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Viking, 192p, $15.99. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Judy Sasges SOURCE: VOYA, August 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 3)
School Library Journal
Gr 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 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a love story that breaks the usual rules ("There's two girls and a boy, but they're not in the roles you'd think they'd have"), Ryan has written an almost too-perfect awakening story. Nic is studying archaeology at a summer camp for academically gifted students. For the first time in her life, she discovers a group of friends surprisingly similar to herself-periphery kids who aren't loners but who don't quite fit in. In addition to Katrina and Isaac, Nic meets Battle, "Beautiful Hair Girl." The four quickly form a tight-knit group, but it's Battle who steals Nic's thoughts. As the lines of friendship blur, Nic and Battle struggle with a relationship that is almost as difficult for them to understand as it is for society. Even in an environment that respects her intellectually, Nic once again finds herself on the outside. Ryan uses a language that not only understands teenagers, but also illustrates respect for them. She also accurately represents a variety of reactions to Nic, from outright hostility and moderate wariness to neutrality and complete support. Seeing eye-to-eye with her characters, Ryan neither patronizes them nor builds them up. Both controversial and long-awaited, this helps to fill a need that is painfully obvious in YA literature and introduces a wonderful new voice. "(Fiction. YA)"

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.52(w) x 8.27(h) x 0.78(d)
HL740L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Both controversial and long-awaited, this helps to fill a need that is painfully obvious and introduces a wonderful new voice." -Kirkus Reviews

Meet the Author

Sara Ryan is a librarian as well as the author of the sequel to this book, The Rules for Hearts, and the upcoming Bad Houses, a graphic novel illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Empress of the World 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 107 reviews.
thepencapsays More than 1 year ago
i am an avid reader, & this book is my all-time favorite. short & sweet, this book helped me find myself. it gave me the courage to come out, & led me to an unforgettable relationship. i wasn't trying to find myself, it just happened. a must-read for any teen girl, especially for the close-minded.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was just reading the reviews and noticed a lot of bad ones. To those people i have to say shame on you. This book isnt supposed to be a classic or award winning. It is supposed to give the reader a sense of self and courage. It is not to be read by the closed minded or the irrational. This book is a window into the soul of a lost young girl who finds herself with the help of another. I loved this book six years ago and i still love it now. Do not hesitate to buy it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's such a cute story and I loved the characters
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a beautiful coming of age story about figuring out and learning to love who you are. A great read!
untiltheend More than 1 year ago
I was really excited to finally read this book when I got my hands on a copy of it. Having discovered it online and read all the positive reviews, I was sure it was going to be incredible. Thirty pages in, and I was disappointed. I did finish it, but I didn't enjoy it. I'll start with the characters. They were flat; very 2 dimensional, and not likeable at all. Their interactions with each other were also very flat and bland. The relationships between them were unrealistic and silly. I had a lot of trouble buying into Nic and Battle's relationship at all. They hardly seemed like they were friends, from the dialogue shown, and the relationship wasn't written well either. We don't even get to see a lot of this relationship - just snippets here and there that don't amount to much. They go through the typical fall in love-breakup-get back together thing here, which could make for some great angst, but it's just not well done. I can't stress enough how badly their relationship was written. The writing is mediocre. The author is terrible with transitions, whether it be one part of a scene to another or a major plot development coming into effect. I have read books with much more mature and refined writing than this. In addition a lot of details were left out, and some were thrown in that didn't need to be. One such example of this is the way the author constantly feels the need to describe what the girls are wearing. First of all, these descriptions are unnecessary and annoying, and second, no teenage girls would wear clothing like that. Finally the story is unrealistic, especially in the way of the school. Yes, such programs do exist, however, I doubt each girl would have their own private room and phone number. Yeah, that seems like nitpicking; however, read a whole book like this and you'll understand my annoyance with the many unrealistic details such as those. The adults were useless in the story, basically just there as part of the scenery. The one "deep" conversation the author tries to throw in about Nic talking to her archaeology teacher comes across as shallow and silly, because we never get to emotionally connect to the teacher (or any of the characters, for that matter) - she's just a prop. Loose ends are never tied up. Problems with parents and home life is discussed frequently, but nothing ever gets resolved and it's irritating. Minor characters and plot lines are only used to advance the story and then never touched upon again. The book is more like a short story, with its rough dialogue, undeveloped characters, and bland/also underdeveloped plot. If you're looking for a good novel about two girls in love, stay away.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book for my summer reading.I hadn't read the back of the book. I just picked it up. When i first started reading is it was interesting, and cool. But as i got more into it it got very awkward and did not flow well together.It foreshadowed way too much. It started to get very boring and dragged on. One of the issues about it was it wasn't easy to relate to for most people. I felt like the foreshadowing killed it for me ,because i had a feeling the whole time what was going to happen at the ending. I would rate this a 4/5 out of a 10. Because it just in all wasn't a very good match for me, and i just didn't enjoy the book by having awkward gaps in between the story line. I would not suggest this to anyone. Unless you have to for you to read this i would find another book to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I own the paper back book and i let a friend barrow it still havent got it back i got another for myself i dont think im going to get the book back but she read it along with a bunch of other people who loved this book this is one of my fave reads
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Its only 100 pages but the plots builds well. I definitely wish it was longer but i hope the next book is just as good. I would definitely recommend this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed reading this i could not put it down. I highly recemend it.
BlowPop More than 1 year ago
I received a copy of this book from a friend who moved out of state because she had duplicates. And I cursed her when I finished it. So many feelings were had. For a first novel this rates pretty high in the good category. It did have it's problems and a few moments of dragging but overall it was highly enjoyable for me. I especially liked how well the social awkwardness was portrayed. Because that is me. 100%. Find the first most inconsequential thing and latch onto it. I'm not a highly sociable creature truth be told.
melissaIvory More than 1 year ago
While Nicola might be the main character, the story's focus on Battle (and that there is a sequel about her now) is what I found the most exceptional about this book. There are very few truly bisexual characters, and Battle is my one of my favourites. While Nicola's story of self discovery is also very touching and realistic, the way that she helps others come to find themselves while doing so as well makes this a story of great friendships. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didn't like it. I finished the book but almost stopped a few times in it because it was boring to me. I kept reading it because I thought it would get better, and for me it didn't. I agree with the other 1-2 star reviews on here.
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Waste of time..
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This book was awkwardly written, incredibly unrealistic, andbhas an upsetting outcome. Quite frankly, it was a waste of eight dollars.
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Taylor Godwin More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this book about five minutes ago. It was am awesome read and the sequel is next on my list. It is one of those books where you fall in love with the characters and almost shed some tears on the final page cause youre not ready for it to be over. This book is completely recommedable, and i will be sharing the news of such a great read with my closest friends. :)