Empress of the World

Empress of the World is about friendship, love, and the sometimes blurry lines between the two.

Nicola Lancaster comes to the Siegel Summer Institute for Gifted Youth to decide whether or not she wants to be an archaeologist. She doesn’t expect to make the best friends she’s ever had, and she especially doesn’t expect to fall in love with another girl.

Empress of the World is an Oregon Book Award winner, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. A companion book, The Rules for Hearts, was published in 2007.

The book was reissued in 2012 with an introduction by David Levithan and three short stories featuring characters from the books: “Me and Edith Head,” “Click,” and the never-before published “Comparative Anatomy.”

Published 2001, reissued 2012, Viking Books, Young Adult Fiction

Book cover for Empress of the World by Sara Ryan


I am sitting cross-legged on an uncomfortable seat, waiting for a speech to start. It has been approximately forty-five minutes since Mom and Dad left me here. I am going to be here for the whole summer, and I do not know a single person. I open the big new journal Mom gave me last week. So far all it has is a title page which says “Field Notes” in block letters. I turn to the first blank page and write:

hypothesis: taking an actual class in archaeology will serve to confirm nicola lancaster in her lifelong dream of becoming an archaeologist.

I scratch out “lifelong dream,” because it doesn’t sound scientific enough, and write “proposed vocation,” but that sounds pompous, so I write “lifelong dream” again, and then above it, in larger letters, “ignore: this is dumb.” Then I write: “speech notes” just in case I actually take any.


Both controversial and long-awaited, this helps to fill a need that is painfully obvious in YA literature and introduces a wonderful new voice.

—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

realistic razor-keen observations and fine-edged humor. An excellent, upbeat (though not un-fraught) first-relationship novel for gay and lesbian teenagers and their straight friends.

New England Children’s Bookselling Advisory Council

characters are voiced with near-perfect pitch. The action is equally on target; Ryan handles Nic’s confusion about her sexuality and her longing for Battle adroitly.”

—The Oregonian

Humorous and bittersweet – a must-read.

—Teen People

Ryan surpasses many of the trappings of stereotypical gay teen representations [and] is to be applauded for taking this story beyond an identity struggle.

—Publishers Weekly

Read Sara’s Work

Sara is interested in how we come to understand who we are, how we find community, and how our environments shape us. They like writing about friendship, love, secrets, and families, both biological and chosen.

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