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by Sara Ryan
Penguin USA, 2001
Review by Jodi Forschmiedt on Apr 23rd 2004

Empress of the World

    Gifted teenager Nicola (Nic) attends a summer enrichment program for the ultra-bright.  She intends to use her time discovering whether or not she wants to pursue archaeology as a profession, but instead finds herself embroiled in an on-again, off-again romance.  Sounds normal, except that the object of Nic's affection is another girl, Battle Hall Davies.

    Though surprised by the sudden appearance of her homosexual proclivities, Nic accepts it without much anguish or introspection.  In contrast, Battle seems tormented, though not necessarily because of her relationship with Nic.  The other teens in their social group barely bat an eye at Nic's and Battle's mutual attraction.  After some predictable pushing and pulling back, including Battle deserting Nic to date a boy, Nic gets to the root of Battle's issues.

    Perhaps this reviewer is too old to have a handle on current teen attitudes about homosexual peers, but the easy acceptance Nic and Battle receive strikes me as implausible.  The author may have intended to suggest that a group of gifted kids would be more tolerant than average, but in fact the dynamic between the advanced abilities of these kids and their relationships with each other gets no attention.  Side plots about other students at the summer program also ignore the psycho-social aspects of giftedness.

    Or perhaps the author meant to foster tolerant attitudes among her readers by presenting characters who embody them.  If so, it comes across as disingenuous.  The youngsters in the story are much too nice.  Being gifted doesn't make one immune from prevailing cultural forces.

    Nic tells her story in the first person present tense, which gives the tale a compelling immediacy.  Diary entries are interspersed with the narrative, giving the reader an additional window into Nic's thoughts. She's a likeable character and her voice sounds authentic, at least to my middle-aged ears. 

    Empress of the World contains no overt sexual behavior beyond kissing, and would be appropriate for any teen.  Author Sara Ryan is reportedly at work on a sequel. 


© 2004 Jodi Forschmiedt       


Jodi Forschmiedt reads, writes, and teaches in Seattle, Washington.