The Summer Prince

Common Sense Media says

Samba- and art-infused sci-fi for mature readers.

Age(i)

2
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5
6
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9
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17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

Teens have food for thought coming from many different angles. The Summer Prince explores the nature of art and how art can be provocative and challenge social norms. For those interested in gender studies, this is also a rare example of a matriarchal society and an attempt at a utopia, but the same complex political maneuverings remain. Teens will also learn about classic Brazilian music and dance as well as a few Portuguese words like "saudade."

Positive messages

The main character's art is a tool for social change and asserting her individuality and creative spirit. There's a question of how far art should or can go to provoke that change while maintaining a sense of love and respect for the society you want to change. Two factions in the city of Palmares Tres are at odds: the technophiles and the isolationists. Questions arise about how far technology should go and when it encroaches on what makes us all truly human. And what are the repercussions of any all-or-none approach to technology?
 

Positive role models

June considers herself weak for wanting to win the yearly art award and makes a decision to cheat and play politics to get it, but then confesses to those it hurt and finds ways to make amends. Enki sleeps with someone for access to technology, but otherwise uses his position as Summer King to expose the plight of those in the lower class.

Violence

Demonstrators are shot at and two die close to Gil and Enki, splattering them with blood. Another dead body is found and someone is stabbed. Opening the book is a flashback to June at age 8 watching the first Summer King get his throat slit; this ceremony happens every year in Palmares Tres and June and Gil mourn that Enki is next. June also mourns her father's death by suicide and blames her mother for not stopping him. Another key character slits his own throat. Talk about what led to this enclosed future society: nuclear war and a disease that wiped out 70 percent of the world's male population hundreds of years before.

Sex

This phrase is uttered a few times: "Everyone knows that Summer Kings screw like mayflies." Enki sleeps around, with mentions of whipping someone who asked for it before sex. Enki and June sleep together, not described in detail. June says that "we solved our virginity problem together a few years ago," talking about her and her friend Gil having sex together. June masturbates bare-breasted and Enki finds her.

Language

A little bit of everything except "f--k," and mostly "s--t" and "ass."

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Drinking wine at dinner -- adults and teens. Drinking at parties with drunkenness and a mention of taking drugs at a party.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Summer Prince is a fascinating sci-fi debut that's a mature read on a number of levels. It will interest readers who like to explore artistic expression as a tool of social change, the impact of technology, political science and gender studies (it's a matriarchal society), and even classic Brazilian music. The sexual content is mature as well. Often said in The Summer Prince: "Everyone knows that Summer Kings screw like mayflies." Enki, the Summer King, sleeps around with both men and women (this society seems pretty universally bisexual), and there are mentions of whipping and a scene of topless masturbation. June's widowed mother marries a woman after June's father commits suicide. Violence feels milder by comparison with some shootings, but at the center of the story is a violent act: The Summer Kings have their throat slit by the queen at the end of their year-long reign. June, the main character, falls for the Summer King and wants to find a way to save him.

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What's the story?

Every year a Summer King is chosen in the pyramid city of Palmares Tres, a tradition said to balance the power in this matriarchal world because, as his throat is slit at the end of his term, he reaffirms the queen's power to rule or chooses another. He's also a \"waka,\" or under-30, in a city filled with \"grandes\" who can live to be in their 100s. All the wakas rejoice in the year's atypical choice, especially teen artist June and her best friend Gil. Their new king Enki is very dark skinned and from the Verde, a lower-class neighborhood filled with stinking algae at the very base of the pyramid. Gil immediately becomes his favorite consort and June his favorite artist friend to sneak around the city with, installing politically provocative art. As both Gil and June become closer to Enki, he remains full of secrets. How does he actually speak to the city, locate danger, and read its pulse so well? How does it tie in with the mostly waka fight for more technology in their isolated city? June's quest for the Queen's top art prize forces her to contemplate Enki's motives in helping her with her art, and whether loving Palmares Tres means defying its traditions or maintaining them.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

You could read THE SUMMER PRINCE in about a half-dozen liberal arts classes -- gender studies, art, world music, poli-sci, computer science, ethics -- and have some seriously great and relevant conversations. And this is sci-fi. And young adult literature.

Yes, THE SUMMER PRINCE covers a lot of high-brow ground, but it's definitely a great fit for the YA crowd. Just look at the "wakas" (under-30s) at the book's center provoking the grande powers that be. They samba and party, they strive to express themselves, they question authority and traditions, they love their technology (especially the illegal stuff), and they wield their newfound sexuality. That about covers young adulthood, even if you don't live in a futuristic pyramid city. Since art and music are so intrinsic to the story, some sketches or even a CD hidden in the dust jacket would have been great. But surely The Summer Prince will point many readers in an exciting new direction for their music streaming playlists.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about whether the matriarchy in The Summer Prince was ever close to being a utopia. What other books about flawed utopias have you read? 

  • Set the mood for The Summer Prince with some classic Brazilian tunes -- dialing up the genre on any music service is a good way to start. Or find samba and Capoeira performances either in your town or online.

  • Look up the word "saudade" on Wikipedia -- a Portuguese word that really does need its own Wikipedia page. For those studying foreign languages or fluent in another language, can you think of other words that are hard to translate into English? Or English words or slang that you just can't explain in another language?

Book details

Author:Alaya Dawn Johnson
Genre:Science Fiction
Topics:Arts and dance
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Arthur A. Levine
Publication date:March 1, 2013
Number of pages:304
Publisher's recommended age(s):14 - 17
Available on:Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, Kindle, Nook

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