Usually when I blurb a YA book, I post about it here when it’s published. Alas, I was in the depths of non-blogging when Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Summer Prince came out a month ago. So now I’m making up for that, because it is a very good book indeed. Here’s what I said in my blurb:
A nimble, beautiful novel about risking everything for love and art, both otherworldly and magnificently real.
But now that I have some time, and more space than one gets for a blurb, I have a lot more to say.
Summer Prince is set four centuries in the future (roughly the same time frame as Ugies). It’s set mostly in a city-state called Palmares Três, which sits where Rio de Janeiro, Brazil does today. The city is post-scarcity futuristic, but technology is carefully controlled and wealth unequally distributed. It’s also a matriarchy, though one with a peculiar old tradition: every five years, the youngest citizens (under thirty) all vote to elect a Summer King.
Summer King is an honorary position, basically an official rock star of the city. He’s always super charismatic, beautiful, and artistically talented, and has an awesome time being king.
There’s only one drawback: at the end of one year the Summer King is ritually sacrificed.
Here’s something you might not know: The sacred king who reigns for a year and then dies can be found in lots of societies in history. It’s an old pagan tradition. But Johnson uses it to examine our current celebrity culture, in which we build up and tear down famous people, particularly young ones, even as we love them with all our hearts.
Which brings us to June Costas, the protagonist of Summer Prince. She’s eighteen, an artist, and a child of privilege. (Her mother is a high government official; her father was a famous singer who committed suicide.) Thanks to her POV, Summer Prince is all about art. Music, drawings, sculptures, nano-tattoos, large-scale high-tech media manipulations—all of these get deployed by June in her quest to be the best artist in Palmares Três. She’s in rebellion against her mother and the government, still angry at her father, and gloriously egotistical (as one might expect of the self-annointed best artist in Palmares Três).
She’s also gloriously in love with the just-elected Summer King, who’s not only fated to die in a year, but also happens to be in love with June’s best friend, Gil.
Anyway, it’s pretty awesome, and got starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist. If you liked the way that the high tech in Uglies empowered its teen characters to do cool things, you will totally love this book. The art in it feels like real art, and the love, both celebrity-crushing and actual face-to-face connection, totally feels like real love.
You can read the opening here.