Monday, 4 March 2013

review: The Summer Prince

by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Arthur A. Levine, March 1 2013
young adult sci-fi
ARC received via publisher (thank you!)

June Costa is the best artist in Palmares Três. But she needs recognition first -- and she knows how to get it: by parterning up with the newly elected Summer King, Enki, an artist himself. But it isn't so simple. Enki, bold and mischievious as he is, is subverting Palmares Três's matriarchy one defiant act at a time; June's and Enki's art projects are fueling a technology rebellion; June's best friend Gil is in love with Enki; and in the end, like all the Summer Kings before him, Enki will die -- a destiny he chose for himself.
The cover:

Can we gush a little? Look at that gorgeous green colour scheme, the lights fading in (so important) and the accurate POC model, plus the stylized font! I think AAL/Scholastic got this book's cover exactly right.

The book:

The Summer Prince tore my heart out. I mean that as viscerally as possible without being actually literal.

It all starts with the worldbuilding. This is genuine sci-fi at its best, a whole new world fully realized from the tiers of the pyramid city to the verde and its catinga to Tokyo 10 and its immortal datastreams. Palmares Três is a real city in these pages, and it makes everything about the book so much truer.

The themes in this book!: technology is at once deadly and beautiful, art struggles with ambition, death questions meaning. Sexuality is dealt with openly (LBGTQ relationships are normal and our protagonist masturbates in one scene), and the matriarchy is thought-provoking and thorough:
"It's okay to cry," he says.
"Gil, you know I hate it when you sound like an agony auntie."
He laughs. "Am I wrong?"
"It's fine for you to cry. You're a beautiful boy."
"So girls don't cry? June, I never knew you were so conventional." (p.83)
June, oh, she's not immediately relatable, not your insta-friend. She isn't because she's finding herself, figuring out what's important and what's right. And with the stakes so high, you sympathize with her. Don't we all, in the end, want to make something beautiful? Have something beautiful?

The supporting cast: Bebel and the relationship she and June have is something absolutely fabulous. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the mean, catty girl trope turned on its head. Gil. Oh, Gil. Sometimes, like June, I hate Enki for hurting him, for loving him, because Gil is such a force of nature it seems wrong. Gil and June have the type of friendship that's so wonderful it endears them both to you at the same time:
Gil stroked my hair and I felt warm and happy as a lizard in the sun. (p.60)
Gil dances like the old days, like he wants to tempt his own death. (p.225)
And Enki. I still don't know if I like this boy or not. Can you love someone who loves the whole world? But at the same time, he knows what's right and what's wrong; and he doesn't love everything the same way. Not the way he loves June. I cling to that as his saving grace.

THE ENDING. The last scene. You think Delirium broke your heart? There's nothing like letting your hopes breathe one last breath before plummeting into starless darkness.

When you're finished the last sentence, go back to the beginning and read the first page again.
The lights are out in Palmares Três.
Why did they go out?
Because I told them to.

The lights are out in Palmares Três.
Why are you alone?
Because I left you.

The lights are out in Palmares Três.
How do I know?
Because I am dead.
Rating: 4.9 out of 5