Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Queens of All the Earth by Hannah Sternberg

Queens of All The Earth
by Hannah Sternberg
Available Now
Bancroft Publishing

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. (From Goodreads)

I think to understand this book to its fullest, maybe you will have to have read A Room with a View and understood E.M. Forester's  intention in A Room With a View to understand how closely linked these two books are. I felt like all the characters from the Italian pensione were all there at the Spanish hostel. The sex or the names had been changed slightly, but everyone was there. And they were all appalled because a father and son gave up their room, this time, a private room, to the two sisters, without asking for anything in return.

I guess I should start in the beginning.  Olivia has had a psychotic break. Her father died. She wasn't close to him, he left in her childhood, but everything that she seems to hold onto or identify with seems related to her childhood. She doesn't want to make that step into adulthood, leaving home, going to college, putting away childish things.  Of course, that's how the two women in her family see life. After high school, you become an adult and become responsible and you put away childish things, like freedom and imagination, and spontaneity.  Her mother even threatens to throw away her childhood books which she is clinging to  like a lifejacket in a hurricane.  She even brings A Wrinkle in Time with her on the trip with her to Spain, she can't bear to be separated from her childhood books.

Miranda is about as much fun as a box of stale crackers.  She complains from the minute they get off the plane and it doesn't stop. She even complains when the affable Browns, father and son, give up their private room so the sisters don't have to sleep in a mixed dorm like room.  At every turn she finds something wrong with them or agrees with something ugly the travel writer Eleanor aka Lenny says.
Miranda throws her lot in with Lenny, but it really seems that no one but she can stand Lenny. Even the priest can't stand her, and Lenny can't stand him.  And she has a lot to say about the Browns as well.

But you know those fickle fates, what must be, must be and Olivia and Greg Brown find themselves alone together in the must unusual places.  With him, Olivia still feels alive and young, her youth and childhood still lives. She can still keep her imagination and her curiosity of a child. She doesn't have to be all responsible and grown up like Miranda.  Stiff and threatening.  Miranda is a contradiction, one minute wanting Olivia to grow up  and the next threatening to call their mother. Not exactly grown up behavior to me.  Miranda could use her own psychotherapy.

The point is that as the novel continues, Olivia grows increasingly uncomfortable living by Miranda's rules. She becomes surly and edgy then finally demands they fly to Africa for the last two days of their trip because it's so close.  She eventually sheds the conventions of life as Miranda and her mother see it and finds her own way.

The only thing that really bothered me about this novel was how heavily it borrowed from A Room With A View. The plot was almost the same with the same type of characters, even some of the same names.  Even the trip at the end, was part of A Room With a View.  Forester's novel was pointing out the restrictive life of  Victorian England for women and how silly it all was. A single girl and her chaperone shouldn't have a room with a view simply because a man and his son had been staying in it.  The conventions of that life were made up of ridiculous rules as the life of Miranda is. "I'll call mom and tell her."  "Don't wander off on your own."  "I hope she'll learn to care about politics. It's embarrassing." How do any of these things make a person grown up or not?

I think this is definitely a novel worth reading. For all the people that didn't think anything happened, look again. Olivia grew into her own person. She shook off her fears of growing up. She didn't become her mother, or Miranda.  And she found someone that understood her.  I think it's an incredibly important lesson to learn, that growing up means different things to different people and we shouldn't impose our definitions of it on people. Don't color in the lines if you don't want to. Think inside the box if you want. But do it your way, don't let anyone else tell you how.


  1. I haven't read "A Room with a View" but I do remember falling asleep watching a film adaptation that my sister had to see for English class. I can, however, definitely sense the restrictive Victorian society through this book's adaptation. It sounds more like a character driven novel rather than your typical plot driven one. Thanks for the review!

  2. I liked a room with a view but I don't think i need to read a modern adaptation. EM Forester did it well enough for me thanks.

  3. Rummanah- Sorry you fell asleep! I love that movie! I did a comparative paper on the novel and the movie. But that was my thing, and my century for literature.

    Patricia- EM Forester did do a great job! But Sternberg is saying something different as we don't live in Victorian times. She's talking about growing up and how it doesn't have to be restrictive. AT least that's what I read from it. Anyway, I enjoyed it. I felt like I was visiting old friends in a new country. The sisters were definitely different from Lucy and Charlotte.


  4. Heather-

    I loved this review because of your amazing comparisons between the books but mostly because of your last paragraph when you put the process of growing up so beautifully.

    One of my favorite reviews :o] Not sure I'll read the book, though!

  5. Haven't heard of this book before but I LOVED how you described the development Olivia made. I think this tells a lot about the story and I'm happy you liked it:)

  6. I have not read A Room With a View and I'm not sure it's my thing or not. Sometimes it's good to step out of your comfort zone and try something new though so maybe one day I'll pick this book up (or Room with a View). It sounds like there are some good lessons taught.

  7. I haven't read or seen A Room With A View, but the story sounds interesting and pretty dark too. I'm not sure that I would read it instead of the original though.
    - Jessica @ Book Sake

  8. Oh come on! You all know who Jane Austen is but you've never heard of E.M. Forester?? Same kind of writing! Howard's End, A Room with A View. Both movies were done by Merchant Ivory who make gorgeous movies. There's even frontal nudity on the guys in A Room With a View. I believe a very young Matt Damon is in it.
    You have to read it if you love Austen. It's not as satirical, but it still points out the injustices of society at the time. Men inheriting everything, the treatment of the poor, women can't be learned. God forbid you have a baby and not be married. Howard's End occurs during the suffrage movement in England. Both the books and the movies are good. Though I can see why they may not appeal to you. Like I said no pointing fingers. These are more literary books. Not exactly fast paced, heart racing books. The kind you have to digest as you read. It's like reading Dickens.

    I appreciate all the kind things you all said! You are such great reviewers yourselves.


  9. I've not read or even seen A Room with a View. I know, bad blogger! :( Hm... but I do like the growth the character experiences. Although I know it would be hard to get through Miranda with all the complaining. Plus, I don't like stale crackers. LOL Love that line. :)


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