A young woman named Nicola Lancaster spends the summer at a programme for gifted teenagers filled with brainy, intense young men and women. Her first day there she meets a group of friends, including a girl named Battle with whom she begins a relationship that starts to blur the line between love and friendship. Funny, moving and whip-smart, this novel explores questions that will engage you and leave you thinking.
“I can hear her breathing – is it louder than usual? Faster? Or is that mine I hear?
I swallow a couple of times. I really should have gotten myself something to drink, too.
‘I can’t feel any hair,’ I announce, and step away.
I remember when I first saw Battle and thought of her as Beautiful Hair Girl. It seems so long ago. She’s still beautiful, of course. But now she looks more vulnerable. Smaller. It makes me want to protect her. I don’t know from what.
‘Ooh yuck, I have little tiny hairs all down my shirt,’ Battle says rapidly, in a higher voice than usual. She uses both hands to pinch her shirt at the shoulders, then shakes it in an attempt to dislodge the hairs.
‘That’s not gonna work, you’ll have to take a shower,’ I say automatically. Then an incredibly vivid picture of Battle in the shower forms itself in my brain. Special effects, cue the Lancaster Special Neon Blush. Again? Yep, again.
‘You’re probably right. I guess I will,’ says Battle, after a moment. Did she look at me strangely before she said that? Oh, god. Please, let her not be able to read my mind.”
Writing Prompt 1
In Sara Ryan’s Empress of the World, Nic often writes in a journal in order to make sense of her feelings and impressions of her life. It helps her focus and figure things out. Try to remember the first time you felt really drawn or attracted to someone and write a short journal entry of your own, as if it were happening now.
350 – 550 words
Writing Prompt 2
The relationship between Nic and Battle seems to be easily accepted among their friends; does this seem realistic to you? Write a scene in which two of your friends, who have never indicated they’re gay, announce they’re having a relationship. What would happen? How would people react?
500 – 700 words
Writing Prompt 3
One of the things Empress of the World looks at is the line between friendship and romantic feelings. Write a short scene in which you or someone you know starts to wonder whether their affection for a friend might be something stronger. How do they react? How does it make them feel?
450 – 750 words