A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
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?
You could read this in about half a 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.
Talk to your kids 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?
- Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Arts and Dance
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
- Publication date: March 1, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
- Number of pages: 304
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
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