Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"The Summer Prince" by Alaya Dawn Johnson

In future Brazil, Palmares Três is a carefully-managed city run by a council of women, led by the Queen who is chosen by the elected Summer King at the moment of his death. June Costa is a young woman born into one of the highest tiers of this society, who strives to become a famous artist. She and her best friend both fall in love with Enki, the Summer King from the lowest tier. When she realizes Enki is a fellow artist, they work together on art projects intended to inspire the citizens of Palmares Três to question the rigid rules in their society.

The novel tackles a lot in a tiny package - gender roles, race, ageism, the role of technology, population control, class struggles, etc. I'm glad to see these complicated issues brought up in relation with one another - they do not happen in isolation, and the book recognizes that they're all at play at any given time. Yet this survey approach does mean that no one issue is explored exhaustively. It allows readers to make their own evaluations, but did leave me wanting a bit more information about the evolution of this society in order to better reflect on these issues. Johnson doesn't reveal how the strange government system, which requires the death of an elected king every five years, came to be until the very end of the novel. Readers probably would have benefited from an earlier discussion.

Nevertheless, I was enthralled with June and Enki's story. Her relationships with the supporting characters, especially her best friend Gil, and her mother and step-mother, only added to June's rich story. I also appreciated the progressive view of sexuality and relationships - in this society there is a complete acceptance of non-heteronormative relationships, so much so that it's not even a plot point that June's mother remarried a woman after June's father's death. Johnson demonstrates an openness and acceptance that deserves commendation.

Verdict: Affirmed for fans of dystopian YA. If "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent" are your jam, definitely throw this in the mix. 

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