Empress of the World -- Sara Ryan

I don't know how or why I didn't read Empress of the World back when it came out -- I only just noticed it again when I saw that Sara Ryan has written a sequel*.

EmpressNicola Lancaster is, by choice, spending her summer at the Siegel Institute Summer Program for Gifted Youth:

hypothesis: taking an actual class in archeology will serve to confirm nicola lancaster in her lifelong dream of becoming an archaeologist.

At home, Nicola Lancaster knows lots of people from her classes and extracurriculars, but before her summer at Geek Camp, she'd never had any real friends.  At the opening ceremony, she meets the flamboyant computer programmer Katrina, the tell-it-like-it-is-unless-it's-about-himself Isaac, and Beautiful Hair Girl, AKA Battle. 

Before long, Nic realizes that her feelings for Battle go far beyond simple friendship.  Then she discovers Battle feels the same way...

The characters are extremely likable -- so much so that I forgave the girls their love of Weetzie Bat.  But, speaking of, I do think that this book is a good example of why to avoid detailed descriptions of clothing in anything other than genre fiction: 

Katrina has a white dress with pictures of buildings and people silk-screened onto it in black--it's like she's wearing a silent movie--neon green tights, and purple combat boots.  She has her hair up, clipped into several clothespins that she has spray-painted silver.

Heck, give her a crimping iron and some squiggly earrings and you'd have a Claudia Kishi original.  And I could have done without all of the jodhpurs.  But none of that was particularly important.  Just a little distracting.

Nicola's deadpan delivery and her eye for ironic and incongruous detail make her a great narrator:

Anne and I get in line for O'Riley's Food Service while Doug gets his lunch out of one of the coolers.  As we approach the front of the line, I see that it's apparently run by the Mexican branch of the O'Rileys.

The focus is very much on Nicola's response to her relationship with Battle, rather than on other peoples' responses.  There were a few incidents with homophobes, but due to Nic's unique voice, the moments mostly serve to highlight the stupidity of the bigots, rather than to make Nicola feel bad about herself.  I found the Cream Puffs Incident especially satisfying.

It's a warm and honest story about awakening and discovery and friendship and first love.  A definite must-read for fans of YA GLBT lit, and I'd give it to fans of Better Than Running at Night, too.

*Which I will be reading ASAP.  It's about Battle in college. 

Books -- YALeila RoyComment