The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Sometimes you just need a little magic.

Something different.

Something that gets you believing in love/friendship/life again.

Sometimes you just need a good story.

Whenever I’m in the middle of a rough patch I like to read something familiar. Good books are like good friends – no matter how long you’re apart the reunion is always sweet and the pattern you fall back into is comforting because it hasn’t changed even though everything else has.

So when that mid-semester stress set in last week I knew I needed something good this week. Then, in a flash of kismet my mom sent me a Valentine’s Day package (because we apparently celebrate that in March now) that included two of my books from home I had requested back in February – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson. Both excellent reads and favorites of mine.

It was meant to be.

Since I want to re-read The Fault in Our Stars when June 6th (the movie release date) looms closer, I decided that it was time to sit down and be enveloped in the beauty of Johnson’s prose.

The Summer Prince is, simply, a beautiful book. It centers on June Costa, “The best artist in Palmares Três” and Enki, The Summer King and the boy she loves.

The book puts it best: “The third thing you should know about Enki is that he wants to die.” See, in this fictional dystopian universe the world has been ravished by war and only a few cities have survived. In Brazil, Palmares Três, a fictional city on the coast, is run by women who pulled their people out of the destruction of the world caused by men. To keep the peace kings are elected every five years, they rule for one year, and, at the end of that year they’re sacrificed at an altar. They must name the next Queen “in gesture or blood” and “their choice wouldn’t matter if they didn’t die to make it.” The idea is that no one can argue with the choice if the king dies making it, because there is no reason to make a corrupt choice when you’re about to be killed. It’s a very interesting concept.

But what I like most about the book is that it’s about so much more than love, so much more than it seems. And it’s full of some of the most enchanting imagery, interesting dialogue, and engaging prose I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. It’s a very quick read – it takes me just a few hours to get through the almost 300 pages.

There’s a healthy dose of Portuguese and Brazilian culture – Candomblé, an afro-brazilian religion, features heavily, intertwined with catholicism, samba and good classic brazilian music weave their way throughout the text. I learned words without having them translated for me, because the Portuguese is integrated into the English seamlessly and the context clues are enough to help even the most obtuse reader catch their meaning. It’s always fun to read a book that entertains while it educates.

June’s perspective on art is the other gem here. There’s a quotation I love that says, “When the world is destroyed, someone must remake the world. I think you would call that art.” The art in this book isn’t about music, dancing, or painting – though those forms are all present – it’s about reshaping the world around you. Which I think is just the coolest concept. After all, that’s what artists try to do – create things that impact the world.

There’s a lot of futuretech in this world, and it’s surprising how relevant the arguments between the pro-tech and isolationist factions are to our modern world. We may not be able to download ourselves into a data stream yet, but we sure do spend most of our time trying to live on the internet.

June comments at one point, “A disembodied collection of data can dance forever, but how much would that be worth without the tension of pushing up against the limits of a body?” 

Well how’s that for food for thought? It’s a good reminder that life is what happens while we’re busy wasting time in our virtual worlds. It’d make one heck of a great, “Unplug” AD campaign.

But if you’re looking for a reason to unplug from Facebook, Twitter, and their ilk, try picking up The Summer Prince to get your tech-fix. I promise it’s way more fulfilling.

Rating: 100/10

Overall Reaction: “I want to learn Portuguese and dance the samba and go to Brazil and be an artist and write books like this one.”

Up Next Week: Judging a Book by It’s Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Lauren Leto, for a change of pace.


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