June Costa and her friend Gil are very caught up in the current Summer King elections, and when their favorite candidate Enki wins, Gil and Enki quickly fall in love as June plots with Enki to create politically risky art installations. This sounds like it should be your standard post-apocalyptic YA romance triangle, and it really isn't. Gil and Enki's romance mainly acts as a backdrop to June constantly having to balance social approval against radical art.
I am having a terrible time writing a summary of this. There's June's battle with her desire to win the prestigious Queen's Award while knowing that anything too daring will disqualify her. There's Enki pushing her more and more toward radicalism as he uses his Summer King position to make the city focus on its poorest citizens. There's June's terrible relationship with her mother and stepmother, with the death of her father haunting them. There's the city's anti-technology tendencies in a world where many people have abandoned their bodies to become datastreams. There's the conflict between the wakas (the powerless youth of the city) and the grandes (the non-youth) along with the class conflict June has been too privileged to pay attention to before Enki. And all the layers are so easily intertwined with the others: this is a future city that feels incredibly real and complicated.
I've previously liked but not loved Johnson's books—Racing the Dark felt too crowded and lacking in focus while Moonshine had a great world but too much paranormal-romance-genre-flavored romance for me. The Summer Prince manages to juggle a bit of romance with a lot of worldbuilding, along with a great YA coming of age story that is June coming into her political and artistic own, and it really feels like Johnson has come into her own as a novelist as well.
And all this is ignoring the incredibly powerful narrative of a Summer King's year and the ritual the city was founded with, the choice of mortality and sacrifice and how it impacts everyone in the book.
This is a really good book on so many levels. I love Palmares Tres and the little glimpses we get of the world outside, I love having same-sex relationships casually in the background, I love little things like June's relationship with her rival Bebel and how that unwraps, I love the bits and pieces of Brazil and the South American African diaspora, I love the non-dystopian and non-utopian matriarchy, and I really really love how it's about sociopolitical moral dilemmas and art and expression written in a way that is complicated and difficult and very personal.
Anyway, go read!
- skygiants' review
- starlady's review
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