June Costa is an artist in the post-apocalyptic city of Palmares Tres, in what was once Brazil. She is a “waka,” a citizen younger than the age of 30, in a matriarchal society ruled by a Queen and “Aunties” (powerful older women). The matriarchy came into power following a horrific plague that killed many of the males and was largely attributed to the negligence of the male rulers.

Although the Queen manages the city, a Summer Prince (a waka) is chosen to rule alongside her as the Summer King for one year, after which time he will be sacrificed. A romance blossoms between June and Enki, the new Summer King, as they develop a relationship based upon their mutual love for artistic expression. As a result, June is forced to question the rules of her society and the wisdom of the ruling class.

In her debut novel for young adults, Alaya Dawn Johnson creates a society where homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality are equally accepted. Women are the accepted leaders, and elders command respect and obedience. However, corruption among the powerful is still very much in existence, and race and culture are still obstacles for those with ambition.

The Summer Prince is a complicated story that weaves together elements of romance, art, moral dilemmas and dystopian themes. The heroine is deeply flawed but still intriguing, and readers of all ages will find themselves craving more from this fresh new voice in young adult fiction.

Emily Booth Masters reviews from Nashville, Tennessee.

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