December 20, 2011

The Queens of All the Earth by Hannah Sternberg: Review

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Sisters Miranda and Olivia embark on a week's vacation to Barcelona and choose to stay at a hostel. A few months previous Olivia had a mental breakdown the day she was supposed to head to college. This vacation is Miranda's attempt to get Olivia back on her feet.

A mistake when booking lands them in the dorm instead of a private room. Miranda tackles the language barrier but fails to persuade the manager to get them what they planned for. Mr Brown, kind older man, offers his and his son's room to them but Miranda is skeptical of his generosity especially when she learns he's a Southern preacher. He's got to be up to something, right? Especially since Miranda's new acquaintance Lenny harbours such a prejudice against the Browns.

Over the week, Miranda and Olivia tour the city making their own discoveries and their own disastrous mistakes.

The Queens of All the Earth by Hannah Sternberg was inspired by E.M. Forster's A Room With View, which I never read. I seem to remember bits of the movie from when I was a kid. Anyway, I am glad because I'm sure it would have influenced my reading of this book. I'm not sure how it would stand up to comparison and I liked this one all on its own.

I've read some negative reviews of The Queens of All the Earth, some of whom tagged it "Romance." Perhaps they were expecting a 'kissing book.' There is some kissing but it's not a romance. In fact, it's more of a psychological study of two sisters with abandonment issues.

Their father abandoned them years ago and has recently died. Their mother, the academic, had little interest in raising them. She takes a laissez faire attitude toward parenting and has few maternal instincts. When Olivia has her breakdown, she makes a statement similar to, "Oh well, she had a breakdown. She'll be fine in a few months. Ta-ta! I'm off to be all anthropologist-ish now." Miranda takes over the role as parent to Olivia, to the Extreme! She's so overbearing and suffocating, planning naps for the girl who is 18 years old. I know her mental state is fragile but back off a bit.

Olivia, for her part, seems content to be pushed around by Miranda even though she disagrees with some of her decisions, particularly the decision to distance themselves from the gentle Browns for the company of the arrogant travel writer Lenny. Lenny is so judgemental and opinionated, thinking of herself as an expert on every topic. Miranda might consider herself more worldly than her sister but she's a terrible judge of character.

While this is a coming of age story of a girl with problems, there was not the current tendency to describe teenaged angst through pages of self-flagellating navel gazing. Olivia's pain is expressed metaphorically, sometimes as a dream about a favorite tree outside her bedroom window at home. The reader doesn't have to suffer through rending of garments to get the point.

There are often dreamy, lyrical passages and vivid descriptions of Barcelona. If you're looking for a fast plot and a tidy ending, look elsewhere. If you want a slowly told story about finding yourself, then The Queens of All Earth is for you.

Ratings:

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Thanks to Harrison Demchick from Bancroft Press for the review copy.

4 comments :

  1. I've seen mixed reviews on this book, but I'm glad you enjoyed it. Maybe it's because I have a 17-year-old, but I definitely have no patience for navel-gazing teenaged angst!

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  2. E.M. Forster is a favourite author of mine, and I'm due for a re-read of ARWAV. I like the idea of companion novels, but this one appears to be only available as an e-book? I do so much reading on the screen as it is, that I haven't shifted to e-book reading yet. ::sigh::

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  3. First of all, thanks so much Chris for the glowing review! I appreciate all your kind words!

    Secondly, for readers: Queens is available in hardcover and paperback as well as e-book formats! You can purchase any of these formats on Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/vqcAzN

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  4. Col- I've seen them too but I really ended up liking it.

    Buried- I must read that soon. It's on my shelf.

    Hannah- Thanks for visiting! And thanks for the link to the book.

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