Saturday, September 17, 2011
Queens of All the Earth by Hannah Sternberg
Well. This was...well. The main reason I kept reading was because I was sure that the plot was going to show up at any minute. But then it ended, and the plot still hadn't shown up. This was book that was essentially about nothing at all, and didn't even have a premise that made sense to me. It is apparently based on Forester's A Room of One's Own, but it just didn't work for me.
So Olivia, who as far as we can figure has never had a mental break before, suddenly before going to college has a totally break down and falls into a catatonic state. Not moving. Not speaking. Not eating. Totally dead to the world. She's like that for three days before she finally comes out of it and starts drifting about, letting people feed her and things. Her mother, who we never really meet and know little about doesn't seem to think this is a big deal and that she'd come out of it on her own (which she eventually does) but her sister seemed highly worried. There was also a doctor at the beginning. No one thought that perhaps hospitalization was required? Maybe some therapy? No. The answer was apparently for Olivia to go on a trip to Barcelona with her sister Miranda. For the purpose of "closure." At this point, it wasn't clear what was up with Olivia. It was mentioned their father had died, so I thought maybe he was from Barcelona, or lived in Barcelona, or died there, or something. It turned out to be none of these things. They were just going there. Barcelona: the best place for closure, even if you have no connection to it and really should be under the supervision of a doctor.
So that's the premise. Olivia is unstable and the solution is for her to go to a county she's never been before with her incredible uptight older sister who clearly has some problems of her own. So right from the beginning I had my doubts, but was sure it was going to all come together somehow.
Well, it didn't. Olivia and Miranda get to Barcelona and check in to a hostel. They meet various people there: Lenny, a totally unpleasant women, Marc, a guy who claims he's a priest and seems to like Miranda for some completely unexplainable reason, and the Browns, a father and son. The father is incredibly nice to everyone, the boy, Greg, is mopey and angsty so of course Olivia feels some interest in him.
By this point, we have learned that Olivia's problem is that she is unable to let go of her childhood. She is constantly rereading her old YA books (oh no! A kind-of adult reading YA!) and yearns for her childhood and allows everyone to do everything for her and take care of her. Miranda, while saying Olivia needs to grow up and take more responsibility, and that's why they're on this trip, babies her most of all. There could have been something interesting in that sister relationship if it had ever been explored, but it wasn't. It was just left there.
Anyway, the members of the hostel go on various day trips where Lenny is a pain in the ass, Miranda is anxious and uptight, and Olivia drifts about. At one point, totally out of nowhere, Greg, who has shown zero interest in human contact up until now, kisses her after reciting some poetry. Miranda, rather than being thrilled that her sister is for a second not acting like a child, goes postal on Greg and tells him to stay away from Olivia.
Ah ha! I think, perhaps a plot is showing up?
No. The group goes on more day trips, no one seems to be having a very good time. We get some e.e. Cummings poetry. At this point I'm almost done with the book and am actually wishing for Greg to suddenly say how he's actually a vampire and Olivia has magical powers because nothing is happening.
Miranda and Olivia where going to leave Barcelona for Africa, but then they don't. Marc and Miranda write to each other. Olivia and Greg say goodbye. It ends with Olivia starting at Cornell, apparently cured by her trip.
Look, I don't know. It was really strange. Also, the narrative had the annoying, forced poetry style that drives me crazy. So...not my cup of tea.
Barcelona does sound very beautiful though.
Queens of All the Earth comes out October 1.