Friday, March 7, 2014

Review: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Tags: young adult, dystopian, sci-fi, LGBT, POC, art


The lush city of Palmares Três shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Três will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with the passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel will leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.


It is with regret that I say I couldn’t finish this book. I got within several dozen pages of the end, and even then I couldn’t make myself finish. This book has so much going for it: the world-building of a future South American enclosed society that’s extremely hierarchical and matriarchal and sci-fi is one of the best I have encountered in books marketed as YA, and as a result of this spectacular world-building, Johnson had a LOT she could work with in terms of exploring dystopian ideas and socially relevant themes of art and technology and race-based issues.

Unfortunately, what THE SUMMER PRINCE lacked for me was an emotional connection with the characters. In between Johnson’s sinfully sensuous prose and her attempts to portray Enki as this beautiful and irrepressible, yet enigmatic, near-mythical being, it seems like there was lost the ways in which readers could concretely grasp the characters’ traits and motivations and desires. Enki read too much like a MPDG (except a guy) to me, and I don’t really have a problem with MPDG characters, except Enki’s character was much too slippery and bright for me to even grasp at the edges.

Johnson is a talented writer, having already published several acclaimed works. But perhaps THE SUMMER PRINCE would have been better marketed as not-YA, for in this genre in which so much depends upon readers’ connections with the characters, THE SUMMER PRINCE will have to face an uphill battle despite all that it has going for it.

Similar Authors
David Levithan
Malinda Lo

Cover discussion: One of the best covers of 2013, hands down. Evocative of the book's thematic content of art, technology, race, and the future without being lurid. So, so, so beautiful.

Arthur A. Levine / Mar. 1, 2013 / Hardcover / 304pp. / $17.99

Borrowed from library.


  1. Without a real connection to characters, I too can't really get into a book. Too bad.

  2. I liked this one, but I know lots of people didn't. Definitely one that needs the right reader to work. But I'm excited about what Johnson might write next, because she's definitely been growing as a writer.

  3. I ended up really liking this book for the good things you described, but I do agree with you that I had a hard time connecting with the characters. However, I think the book won me over in the last dozen pages, which I know is kind of asking a lot in a category that (like you said) relies more heavily on connection to the character. I think the climax of the novel that happens in those last few chapters pulled a lot of thematic threads together for me, and I was surprised by how emotionally affected I was when this happened.

    Again, that's a long time to wait for a breakthrough though. Agree with you that it might have been better suited as a non-YA, and I agree that Johnson is a talented writer. I look forward to what she comes up with next. :)


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