Friday, March 23, 2012

The Queens of All the Earth by Hannah Sternberg

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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."

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

I have never read A Room with a View. I have, however, seen the movie 18 gazillion times. So that is where I will make my comparisons. I apologize to anyone that is a die hard fan of the book and not the movie. I promise it is on the “To Read” list.

I don’t agree with classifying this story as a novel. At approximately 162 pages I would call it either a short story or a novella. I fully admit that while reading it, I was thinking of it as a short story which definitely affected that way I was viewing it while reading and then rating it. Viewing this as a novel would have probably made me a lot less forgiving of the lack of story development. However, in my opinion, this was completely forgivable when reading it as a short story, particularly if you are familiar with the original story.

The Queens of All the Earth is a lovely homage to A Room with a View. I think the story really lends itself to the YA category due to the instant connection these two teens feel for each other. And the change of setting from Italy to Spain was an excellent choice. I fully admit that I probably feel this way because I have always wanted to visit Spain.

I found that I was hot and cold on the characters in the story. The characters of Olivia and Greg were great modern day embodiments of Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson. Greg’s father was just as lovely as Mr. Emerson in the original - by far my favorite character due to his unassuming kindness.

Unfortunately the other characters in this story were so unlikeable I found myself getting very frustrated. Don’t get me wrong, I know that not all the characters in A Room with a View were likeable and perfect but even I was able to find redeeming qualities in Eleanor Lavish and Charlotte Bartlett. Their modern day equivalents – Lenny and Miranda – were so mean-spirited that I failed to find any redeeming qualities at all. Miranda did save a face a little at the end but it would have been nice to see some likeable qualities earlier in the story.

Mean girls aside, I really enjoyed this story. For the setting, the main characters and more than anything, the poetic words.

“He had swallowed the sun, and he would wait in the water and glide through it until he could set his teeth in the silver of the moon.”

It is passages like this that make me want to put a copy of this book in the hands of everyone that I know.


  1. This is my first time hearing of this book. Like you, I have not read A Room with a View. I liked this honest review and thought you brought up many excellent points. I am curious about this book now- and it sounds like it is a fast read based on the number of pages. Thanks for sharing!


  2. I definitely recommend it. It's a lovely quick read.