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Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027

The Summer Prince

The Summer Prince - For as much as I say that I prefer to wait on paperbacks rather than get new hardcovers, there have been a lot of books that I’ve picked up within the first few months of release mainly based on buzz. I did it for Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, I did it for Eleanor & Park, and I did it for Ayala Dawn Johnson’s YA debut, The Summer Prince. Due to a lot of early buzz from my Twitter feed (which is 80% authors I like) and my past experience with her writing (if you haven’t read her story in Zombies v. Unicorns, do it it’s brilliant), I was excited to pick this up and check it out.And…I liked it. I don’t know if my excitement over this novel has lessened with the fact that I decided to wait and read the book instead of tearing into it right away. Which isn’t to say that this is a bad book, not at all! I’m just torn on my own personal feelings and I don’t know if it’s because I decided to wait instead of going “OMG NEW BOOK MUST READ NOW!” (I do acknowledge my excitement over new releases does tend to skew my feelings toward it.)Anyway. The Summer Prince does have a lot of great things going for it. Futuristic Brazil! Matriarchal dystopia! High representation of POCs and varying sexualities! And all of this feels natural, not as if Johnson was trying to shoehorn all of these things just to fill up a groundbreaking YA Lit Bingo card. And I have to give this book the highest praise toward the writing. Alaya Dawn Johnson is a gorgeous writer, and every single one of her descriptions is breathtaking and so full of life. I loved how she makes Palmares Tres comes to life, not just with June’s artwork, but even the simpler scenes of day to day life. The setting is vibrant and colorful, and the sequences! I’ve read a lot of YA books where the main character is a visual artist but very rarely have I seen it come across in text so well. The sequence of June creating the four siblings, was beautiful—to the point of I don’t know if they should make a movie out of this because I want to see that scene so badly and yet it’ll probably never live up to what I’ve pictured. And oh my God, the Heads and Hearts gang war in Salvador. The way Johnson slowly builds up these lights and encroaching skulls and it explodes into so much light and color and destruction. (The Heads and Hearts scene is hands down my favorite scene in the whole book.) The problem I have with the book is mainly due to the characters. I liked them, and I got all their conflict. It’s just not quite…there for me. I will say that out of the three main characters we’re following, June is the strongest. I liked that her story isn’t defying society with her artwork and eventually toppling the matriarchal dystopia, but rather her understanding how to let go of the dead. It’s a very personal story in a sub-genre that’s ruled mainly by ‘epics,’ and putting June’s conflict of missing her father at the forefront helps illustrate her eventual relationship with Enki. And I liked that the world-building supports June’s confusion and anger over her father’s death. In a world where immortality is possible, why would you want to die? The argument isn’t treated as heavy-handed or tilted in one side’s favor, and that’s one of the things I really loved about the book. I loved that even by the end, June’s not completely reconciled with her mother, but they’re closer to understanding each other than they have in a very long time.However, the more glaring issue is Enki. If June’s journey is accepting death and that people can and will leave this world too soon, Enki is not the strongest argument in the book. Especially since it’s stated outright that this is a doomed relationship (not only with June, but with Gil as well). But Enki feels so one-dimensional to me. We spend the first thirty or so pages establishing Enki as a symbol of youth, the summer king who will speak for the next generation, but we never get to see anything beyond that. The short passages where Enki talks about his doubts and what he wants his sacrifice to accomplish doesn’t ring as true to me. I wanted to see another side of his character than the happy, smiling doomed Summer King. The explanation that he has so many mods and therefore can’t hate anyone felt more like a handwave than a decent explanation. And I think the story—and particularly June’s story—suffers for it. (I’ve come very close to pointing out that Enki’s a Manic Pixie Dream Boy. I’m sorry, that’s what he feels like to me.)My other issue with the world-building. Granted this is a lot better than some of the other dystopia settings/ideas I’ve read, but it’s still fairly weak. I wanted to see more of the divide between the Tiers and the verde, and really bring in the fact that in-universe current tech was outlawed to the majority of the citizens. I do like the acknowledgement that June is privileged, not just with an Auntie for a stepmother, but given Enki’s background, the class divide never gets fully explored. A lot of the technological war didn’t feel as set up to me. As I said, the descriptions of Palmares Tres are beautiful, and when Johnson works in the tech, it’s extremely vivid. But we never really see much of a contrast with the technology of the rest of the world. (And if Palmares Tres’s tech is supposedly a century out of date, can you even imagine the tech Tokyo-10 has?) The strongest part of the conflict is the youth war between the wakas and the grandes, but I wanted to see more of the corruption within the Aunties and the government. It’s there, and it’s acknowledged, but it never feels fully expanded on to have a real impact. And given the fallout from Enki’s sacrifice, choosing June as the moon queen doesn’t feel like it should have the weight that it does. The climax is strong, but I wanted more wrap-up and exploration of Enki’s choice than just a few pages.(Random aside: Based partially on the back promotional blurbs and the way a lot of the tech was described, my headcanon placed this solely within Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies verse. Hey, he does say that South America’s different than the rest of the world…)I’m not saying to completely pass it up, and I would say if you want to see some stellar writing in YA, omg go read this. But the story ultimately falls short of what it could be. (It actually reminds me a bit of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone: gorgeous writing, interesting concepts, but the characters fall too short for me.) I think ultimately it’s worth checking out to see if you like it, but I wouldn’t brush it off completely from what I’ve said here. I am extremely excited to see what else Alaya Dawn Johnson has in store in the future.