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Review: The Summer Prince November 4, 2013

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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princeIt’s no secret that dystopias and futuristic settings have been hugely popular in YA fiction for the last few years. Most of those books involve some level of violence, whether it’s the every-teenager-for-his/herself of The Hunger Games or the faction wars of Divergent. But how many of these teenage rebels fight primarily with art? And have we ever seen a dystopia clearly inspired by a Latin-American country?

Now we have, thanks to Alaya Dawn Johnson’s first YA novel, The Summer Prince. If you like your YA lit with matriarchal societies, subverted love triangles and diversity, here is the book for you.

June lives in Palmares Tres, a tiered city run by a group of older women called ‘aunties’ and led by a queen. In a world where technology has led to longer lifespans, the gap between the ‘grandes’ or older adults and the ‘wakas’ or teenagers is considerable. As a concession, every year the wakas choose a Summer King, who has the power to choose a new queen. But each Summer King is killed at the year’s end. This year, the Summer King is Enki, who will upend every part of June’s life, art and ambitions.

My favorite things about The Summer Prince are June’s growth as a character, the descriptions of her art and how her understanding of the history and structure of Palmares Tres changes. I also love the authenticity of her feelings for Enki and her loyalty to her friend Gil, even as she tries to figure out where her relationship with Enki is heading. The world-building was occasionally a bit cumbersome, and I can’t speak to the authenticity of the elements of Brazilian culture referenced (samba, Carnival, etc). However, I am thrilled to see a YA dystopia with main characters of color and a beautiful cover featuring one of them. Yes, it’s still the ‘headless teenage girl’ image cliche. But at least she has natural hair!

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