Empress of the World by Sara Ryan (@ryansara)

There’s a hole in popular young adult fiction, specifically romance. I’m so tired of the typical boy girl-boy love story that is so pervasive in YA lit.
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Where are the teen lgbt stories? Not the one where the hetero girl has the flamboyant, all-knowing, gay, male friend that helps her through her romantic crisis, but the one where the protagonist is experiencing their own crisis, with someone of the same sex. I’m not saying that these stories don’t exist (Will Grayson, Will Grayson / Blue is the Warmest Colour/etc), there just aren’t enough of them. A good coming of age story is a good story, regardless of the central characters. Empress of the World looked like it was worth a read.

The teens in the book are realistic enough: they are insecure, confused and scattered, but man, are tey shallow. And I don’t mean in a self-centred way, but in a they-have-no-depth way. The writing is so one dimentional. There is almost no character development for the two girls in question. The relationship between Battle and Nic should be overflowing with new discovery and exploration. But it falls flat. It just doesn’t feel realistic. So much of the relationship is told through Nic’s journal entries. It should be candid and genuine. You don’t lie in your journal.
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You’d only be lying to yourself. Journal entries are personal; this is where people pour out their emotions. We should feel like we’re in the centre of their relationship. But instead, the reader is left hanging at every moment of togetherness. The moments we are allowed to intrude on are brief and descriptionless. “We kissed” “She kissed me” That is the portrayal we get. It’s not enough. I’m not saying I want all the graphic details, but I want something to get invested in. How can I care about the relationship if I’m only given the Ikea instructions version of the set up?
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I felt more connected to the Isaac and Kat relationship because they struggled. They were both equally involved in what was happening and their drama became real. Nic and Battle never reach this level of believability. Battle’s guarded persona feels real because of her troubling relationship with her family, but she still lacks any real character development.

I’ve read lgbt literature before, not extensively but enough to recognize the use of vocabulary to embody power; however; I was not a fan of the way the word dyke is thrown around this story. It’s so frequent but totally lacking casual ease or intent of purpose. It felt like a shock tactic without providing any substance to be shocked by.

The book reads like it was slashed and burned by an editor in order to fit a certain length, and the areas that suffered were all the juicy parts. After doing some research into the publishing company (for totally selfish reasons), this might actually be the case. Their rules are so strict that I don’t know how an author could ever really express their own voice. There’s such a wave of publishing options available right now that I feel like authors are settling. I’m a writer. I want to be published – desperately. But, I don’t want to do it at the expense of the story. There’s always work that needs to be done. That’s why editors exist, but sometimes, it’s not the right work. And the tsunami of unedited self-published books flooding the market… well that’s a post all on its own. I’m not saying they’re all bad. I’m just not saying they’re all good.
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This could have been a great story, but ended up being nothing more than mediocre.
I want to add that I’ve heard great things about Ryan as a graphic novelist. I don’t generally read these, so that could be where she shines. As a novelist, she’s not for me.

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