Ryan, Sara 1971–
Ryan, Sara 1971–
Born 1971, in OH; married Steve Lieber. Education: University of Michigan, B.A., graduate degree in library science.
Librarian and writer.
Empress of the World (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
The Rules for Hearts: A Family Drama (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 2007.
Hellboy: Weird Tales, illustrated by husband, Steve Lieber, colored by Jeff Parker, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2003.
Me and Edith Head, illustrated by Steve Lieber, Cold Water Press, 2003.
Flytrap, Episode One: Juggling Act, illustrated by Steve Lieber, Cold Water Press, 2005.
Flytrap, Episode Two: Deep, Two, illustrated by Ron Chan, Cold Water Press, 2007.
Flytrap, Episode Three: Over the Wall, illustrated by Ron Chan, Cold Water Press, 2007.
Click, illustrated by Dylan Meconis, Cold Water Press, 2007.
Einbahnstrasse Waltz, illustrated by Cat Ellis, Cold Water Press, 2007.
Sara Ryan is a librarian who also writes novels and comics. Her first book, the novel Empress of the World, explores the intense bond that develops between two teenage girls who attend a summer institute for gifted high-school students. Nicola Lancaster, the narrator, describes her attraction to Battle Hall Davies, a beautiful Southern belle. The girls quickly become close, but when Nic sees Battle holding hands with a boy from their group she is devastated, and things only get more complex when Nic herself is drawn to a boy as well. Ryan treats the sexual tensions in the story with sensitivity, showing the girls' confusion as they explore their identities. For both of them, this is the first same-sex attraction, and Nic, especially, is troubled by the question of whether she is lesbian or bisexual. In time, however, she comes to accept how she feels about Battle without having to categorize herself.
Ryan writes about sex openly, describing Nic and Battle kissing, but she also examines the general theme of adolescent identity struggle. Reviewers admired much about Empress of the World. A writer for Horn Book praised the novel's realistic dialogue and convincing depiction of adolescent emotions, though the critic felt that its thematic development was a bit weak. A Publishers Weekly contributor also noted the book's insufficient development, but observed that Ryan "nonetheless surpasses many of the trappings of stereotypical gay teen representations," and presents, in Nic, an "appealing heroine."
School Library Journal contributor Francisca Goldsmith found the book "written with understanding, humor, and heart," and praised Ryan's exploration of various types of partnering: passionate, emotional, and idealistic. Nancy Garden, writing in the Lambda Book Report, hailed Empress of the World as an "excellent" novel at once "funny—sad—bitter—[and] poignant." One of the things that so impressed Garden was the book's openness. "A few years ago," she noted, "the main character in most [young adult novels] in which sexual identity was an issue would have agonized over this question, wondering what being gay or lesbian would mean to friends, family, career, etc. But … although Nic does worry, she is more relaxed about the question's implications than young queer characters have been" in young adult novels from earlier years. Garden also praised Ryan's choice to portray the girls' sexual orientation as a fluid thing rather than a fixed identity, and her ending the book on a happy but open note about the girls' future.
In an interview with Lucy Burns on the Teen Reads Web site, Ryan explained that the characters in Empress of the World were inspired by several of her friends. Explaining the inspiration for the novel, she added: "Since I'm a librarian in my day job, I was certainly aware that there are not a lot of books out there for queer kids. And since I'm bisexual, I was also very much aware of that lack on a personal level. But fundamentally, I wrote it because I wanted to tell Nic and Battle's story."
Battle is enjoying her last summer before entering college in The Rules for Hearts: A Family Drama, Ryan's second novel. Battle has moved to the communal house in Portland, Oregon, where her older brother, Nick, settled after having run away from home a few years earlier. Battle is eager to get closer to Nick, whom she adores; she also develops a crush on another resident of the house, and joins a theater group. In the end, Battle discovers that Nick does not fit her perfect image of him; he can't make it on his own, and returns home after his parents come to his rescue. A writer for Kirkus Reviews found Battle a highly believable character, but deemed The Rules for Hearts a rather disjointed story without a clear focus or direction. Gillian Engberg, writing in Booklist, described Battle's narrative voice as "strong [and] believable," and observed that Ryan "memorably captures an older teen's tumultuous first summer of independence."
Discussing The Rules for Hearts with Web log writer Cynthia Leitich Smith, Ryan said that she faced several challenges in writing this sequel to Empress of the World. Getting Battle's voice right, she said, was crucial. While it had been relatively easy, in the first book, to create a voice for Nic—whose voice, Ryan admitted, is not much different from her own—it was more difficult to make Battle's voice authentic. It was also a challenge, said Ryan, to write about a dysfunctional sibling relationship. "I'm an only child," she explained, "so I don't have any firsthand experience…. When I was writing the scenes with Battle and Nick, I tried to convey a complicated combination of love, loyalty, teasing, worry and exasperation on Battle's part. And finally, it was difficult to reveal exactly how things had ended between Battle and Nic. Though many readers had hoped that The Rules for Hearts would continue the story of the girls, Ryan felt she had to take Battle's story in a different direction.
In addition to novels, Ryan has written comics, several of which are illustrated by her husband, Steve Lieber. Me and Edith Head features a character, Katrina, from Empress of the World; it is set before the events of that novel, and shows how Katrina became interested in costumes. Me and Edith Head was nominated for a Best Short Story Eisner Award. Click, illustrated by Dylan Meconis, takes place during Battle's senior year in high school. Greg McElhatton, reviewing Click in Read about Comics, observed that despite the book's brevity, it never feels rushed, and depicts a friendship so "clearly and realistically you'd feel like you'd known [the characters] for ages." Praising Ryan as a talented writer, McElhatton concluded that "Ryan's works in prose as well as sequential art (and there's quite a few of both) have proven that she's equally adept at both mediums, and quite frankly, Click is the sort of comic that we need more of." Ryan's additional comic titles include Hellboy: Weird Tales, Click, and Einbahnstrasse Waltz.
In her interview with Leitich Smith, Ryan said that she believes that writers should not hesitate to deal with controversial themes in books for adolescent readers. If writers tell stories that they care passionately about, she said, publishers and audiences will appreciate them.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 2002, review of Empress of the World, p. 1228; June 1, 2007, Gillian Engberg, review of The Rules for Hearts: A Family Drama, p. 58.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September 1, 2001, review of Empress of the World, p. 34; June 1, 2007, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Rules for Hearts, p. 436.
Horn Book Magazine, September 1, 2001, review of Empress of the World, p. 594.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2007, review of The Rules for Hearts.
Lambda Book Report, November 1, 2001, Nancy Garden, review of Empress of the World, p. 29.
Publishers Weekly, July 23, 2001, review of Empress of the World, p. 78; June 16, 2003, review of Empress of the World, p. 74.
School Library Journal, July 1, 2001, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Empress of the World, p. 113; April 1, 2007, Miranda Doyle, review of The Rules for Hearts, p. 148.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August 1, 2001, review of Empress of the World, p. 206; April 1, 2007, Lynn Evarts, review of The Rules for Hearts, p. 55.
Associated Content,http://www.associatedcontent.com/ (April 18, 2008), Little Willow Takeaways, author interview.
Comics Worth Reading,http://comicsworthreading.com/ (April 18, 2008), review of Me and Edith Head and Flytrap.
Cynthia Leitich Smith Web log,http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ (April 18, 2008), author interview.
Read about Comics,http://www.readaboutcomics.com/ (April 18, 2008), Greg McElhatton, review of Click.
Sara Ryan Home Page,http://www.sararyan.com (April 18, 2008).
Teen Reads,http://www.teenreads.com/ (April 18, 2008), Lucy Burns, author interview; Serena Burns, review of Empress of the World.