Updated: Sep 26
Title: Empress & Aniya
Author: Candice Carty-Williams
Published: 7th October 2021
Genre: Young Adult, Fiction
Start Date: 1st September
Finish Date:1st September
When Empress starts at Aniya's school, they're not exactly best friends. But, when the two teenage girls accidentally cast a spell on their 16th birthday and end up switching bodies, they quickly learn that friendship is the most important magic of all. South London's answer to 'Freaky Friday', Empress and Aniya is a moving portrayal of the importance of real friendship and the ups and downs of being a teenager.
Empress & Aniya is a sweet and endearing young adult read highlighting the magic of genuine friendship with a Freaky Friday-esque twist.
Empress and Aniya are great characters, easy to identify with, and have likeable personalities. It’s encouraging to meet two young Black female characters with energy and heart.
The contrast between the lives of Empress and Aniya is really well presented. I enjoyed the way Candice Carty-Williams used the girls’ differences to pinpoint disparities in race, class and privilege. But what struck me the most was the portrayal of mental health in teens. Sometimes, in adolescence, you find yourself feeling angry, upset, or deflected, but can't exactly work out why. And this book explores how mental health is affected by both loving and unloving environments.
For such a short book, this story really packs in a lot of feelings and emotions. It touched on such important issues such as bullying, poverty, racism and differences in class. I say touched on as they could have gone deeper, but I’m guessing they didn’t as it’s such a short book. Plus this is YA, and I’d say more so the younger end of this age category, so maybe the way they were covered was in mind of that.
Aniya standing up for Empress on more than one occasion allows Empress to see through her and a beautiful friendship begins to blossom. Empress' life is tough outside of school and their relationship provides a welcome safe space for her to flourish. It turns out that both girls have a lot more in common than they would have ever imagined, like sharing the same birthday. They were both going to turn 16 soon and since they were in each other's lives so much, they decided to celebrate together and in the process accidentally cast a spell and ended up switching bodies with each other. This was where it got really interesting.
This beautiful and touching story of two young black teenage girls was inspiring to read. Both girls are smart, beautiful but their lives are nowhere near perfect. Empress' story broke my heart but their friendship was uplifting to experience. I appreciated the honesty in their relationship. They play a key role in shaping each other and their lives are forever changed for better because of their relationship.
This book touched on a lot of important things like poverty, classism, bullying and multiple forms of racism. While the inclusion of these issues was great, we never get anything deeper than surface level. For the most part, they’re briefly brought up in a couple of sentences and then dismissed without ever being addressed. And the feelings of the characters in relation to these things are never really delved into either. I just think it was such a wasted opportunity and it really could've added complexity and depth to the narrative.
The relationships in here were a high point for me, probably the best thing about this book. Aniya’s parents were so supportive and really made an effort to try and connect with Aniya through the turbulence of her adolescence, and help with Empress. It was so sweet to see. Obviously, the friendship/sisterhood between Empress and Aniya was the show stopper here, though I think more character development could’ve been on page. On the first page we’re shown Aniya to not be very receptive to having Empress as a friend but a couple of pages she’s doing anything and everything for her, it just felt a bit haphazard. The thing is, there weren’t really many pages in this book to really allow for the development either.
The magical realism element came completely out of the blue with no real explanation but hey, I don’t really wanna criticise that. To be honest it was fun and made for an interesting turn of events so I don’t really care about the logistics of it really, I loved it. The only thing that I will say is that I’d maybe have loved it from the beginning instead of for a short period halfway through? But it was wacky and unexpected and a fun element.
I thought that this was a really lovely story of friendship and the importance of holding your friendships to a high standard. In its hundred or so pages Empress and Aniya manages to cover a range of issues - mental health, neglect, classism, and ageism - without feeling like it's losing anything in the brevity. The characters are really the highlight; both Empress and Aniya are thoroughly likeable and well fleshed out, and even more minor characters like Dani and Aniya's parents have dimension to them. Generally, the narrative pans out well, though I actually think it would have worked just as well without the body swap - Aniya clearly has a lot of empathy for Empress without needing to experience her life first hand. It's wonderful to see a depiction of two young girls so fiercely protective of one another.
I did find the sheer extremities of wealth the two characters were placed at risked falling into caricature at points, and softening that a little might have made for a slightly more nuanced exploration of class. What's here is ultimately a sort of Jacqueline Wilson-meets-Dickens rags-to-riches story, which I'm not necessarily sure is what this was going for.
Regardless, I really loved these characters and certainly wouldn't complain if Candice Carty-Williams wanted to build more of a world around these characters. I'd read it!