Original Language: English
Publisher: Bancroft Press
Publication Date: June 15 2011
Page Count: 160
eARC provided by NetGalley
Queens of All the Earth is due to be released on June 15!
As her freshman classmates move into dorms at Cornell University, Olivia Somerset suffers a nervous breakdown. When months of coaxing and analyzing fail to rouse Olivia from her stupor, big sister Miranda decides the sisters should fly off to Barcelona for some "vacation therapy."Hannah Sternberg's debut novel is a thrilling coming-of-age adventure where control is taken over by the whimsical and imagination moves in leaps and bounds. Queens of All the World is the story of sisters Olivia and Miranda, separated by more than just age. Olivia is unwilling to release the wonder of her childhood while Miranda believes herself beyond it's call.
When a mistake at their Barcelona hostel leaves the Somersets in a large co-ed dorm room, Olivia and Miranda are saved by kindly Mr. Brown and his son Greg, who happily volunteer to surrender their private room. But while Olivia feels an instant connection with brooding Greg Brown, Miranda sides with fellow guest and cocky American travel writer Lenny:
The Browns are just plain weird, and must be avoided at all costs.
In the midst of urbane Peruvian priests-in-training and Scottish soccer fans, from the shops of La Rambla to the waters of the Mediterranean to the soaring heights of Montjuic, Miranda works to protect her still-fragile sister while Olivia struggles to understand her burgeoning adulthood, her feelings for Greg, and the fear that makes the next step in her life so impossible to take.
Inspired by E. M. Forster's classic novel A Room with a View, debut author Hannah Sternberg's Queens of All the Earth is a poetic journey of young love and self-awakening set against the beauty of Catalonia. Teenagers and adults alike will be riveted and moved by this coming-of-age novel about the conflicting hearts and minds of two very different sisters.
Queens of All the Earth is an outstanding first book, one that will capture hearts with it's elaborate but gentle prose and exquisite descriptions of Barcelona. Written in the third person, Sternberg keeps her characters at a distant, leaving the reader on the wrong side of the Looking Glass. Her prose is beautiful and the fanciful detail given to Barcelona's country side (dragon teeth) creates a magical background.
Olivia is sweet and fanciful, a fragile flower compared to her organised, no nonsense and over protective sister Miranda. With chapter titles like "Motionless, Forgetful, Where" the reader is offered a brief insight into the complexity of Olivia's vulnerability. From Olivia's delicacy; her uncertainty over growing older and her grief over the death of her father; Sternberg weaves a tale of growth and maturity that any reader can empathise with.
It is Olivia's fear of losing her childhood, and her connection with her childhood favourites, like A Wrinkle in Time, that makes her an accessible character. In an article on children's literature C.S Lewis argued that reading 'children's books' as an adult signifies growth, as the individual comes to appreciate more from their world while still appreciating their past. Instead of giving up that past, they add to it. In Queens, Olivia's fears of letting go of her childhood are softened by an acceptance that there is more in the world for her to appreciate. For Miranda it was the opposite, she needed to learn that her childhood was a part of her, and to accept it in order to grow.
The one thing I waited for, that never happened, was for Olivia to get tired of Miranda's mothering. As a young adult myself, having one mother hovering is enough, there are times when you must accept responsibility for yourself. Miranda's over protectiveness was crushing Olivia's sweetness, and it agitated me. It wasn't until the finale, when Miranda learns to let go and let Olivia live, that I started to appreciate her character. (What I wanted Olivia to say to Miranda)
Queens of All the Earth was an amazing debut novel for Hannah Sternberg. It had a sweetness and a purity that I have rarely come across in YA fiction. Instead of focusing on the trivialities of lust, sex and peer pressure, Sternberg created an amazing coming-of-age story that reminded me of Perks of Being a Wallflower in its sincerity.
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My Queens of All the Earth review is my March entry to the 2011 Debut Authors Challenge. See it here.