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Bibliophilic Monologues

The Summer Prince

The Summer Prince - This book goes places that not many other YA novels have gone before. It is complex, emotionally rich and exquisitely detailed. It is not perfect but that will be discussed a bit later. For the meantime, let’s just savour the fact that this book exists.The Summer Prince is a post-apocalyptic novel set in what used to be Brazil. Patriarchy has been replaced by matriarchy and a king is sacrificed every year. There are Aunties who are a bit like senators or MPs, a Queen and a sub-Queen. There is a sun king who gets to choose a new queen and a Summer King who is always young and his duty is not to choose a new queen but to reaffirm the ruling power of the current one. But no matter sun or summer, Kings always die in the world this novel is set in.This novel engages in themes of art and artistry, politics of power, love, technology, social hierarchy, sexuality, humanity, death and trying to find common ground with parents. These are a lot for a book that is only 304 pages. First, let’s talk about the main character, June. She’s interesting. I know, that is not always a positive thing but this time, I really do mean it. She’s like a comet, burning hot, hot and hotter; passionate about the things she believes in and the people she loves. As passionate in her anger and hatred as she is about love. Her mother and her mother’s wife who is one of the “Aunties” present interesting venues for conflict. Her best friend Gil and her rival turned friend Bebel are also intriguing characters who add to the narrative. For such an important character, Gil doesn’t have much page time and I wonder about that. I think he should have been more present given his role.It is the Summer King, Enki, however, who is the true sun of this book. All characters and events orbit around him, helplessly attracted by his looks, his personality and his magnetism. Homosexuality is not even mentioned in this book – it’s such an ingrained part of the culture that talking about it and making it distinct is not even necessary. Teenage sex is present in this novel as is masturbation and there is no prurience attached to the scenes. The characters in this novel exist very physically; moving, dancing, making love, creating art. So them physically expressing their love will trouble no one except those who like to get offended. And there are many of them out there. Hur.As I said however, the book is not perfect. The novel is not clear about the direction in which it wants to go. There is talk about a revolution but the government doesn’t get enough coverage and I am not wholly persuaded that the so-called revolution is necessary. This is partly due to me reading The Hunger Games and seeing far crueler leaders than the Queen and partly due to the fact that not enough information is giving to delineate the social hierarchy. It is present but not as explicitly as I would have liked it to be. The resolution is a bit too neat and I’m bummed that the author didn’t show what would have been the most powerful scene in the book. I understand why she didn’t but I would have liked to see it.Alaya Dawn Johnson’s books are always different. Well written, yes, but they always challenge the reader to think harder, open her mind, cast a wider net in order to encompass the entire narrative. The world of The Summer Prince is so rich and the characters are so complex and layered that I could have easily spent a thousand or more pages with them in that world. However, Johnson manages to tell a powerful story about the inevitability of greed where power is concerned, of the danger of love and the intricacies of art in just a bit over three hundred. Definitely recommend if you want something different, something more. I know that this book will not appeal to those who consume the standard YA fare. As I have said once and again, this is bold and different. There are the elements of a YA novel present, the skeleton of it but the book is almost feral. I can see it appealing a lot more to adults than teenagers and I think the publishers should consider the crossover appeal and market it accordingly. Either ways, I do urge you to read this. You may not like it but it is different and augurs a different path, an alternative path, for YA writers to consider and take.