Archive for Alaya Dawn Johnson

Reading The Summer Prince

Posted in Books, Science fiction, Young adult with tags on August 10, 2013 by Cara Marie

Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince was, to me, as good as all the good reviews said it was. Looking on Goodreads after the fact, it seems like it has been pretty divisive. I find a kind of sick fascination in reading some of the negative reviews, just because what they got out of it was so different from what I got out of it.

The most bizarre being the idea that June was in a ‘love triangle’. One of the reviews says June was ‘toggling in her mind whether she should be with Enki or Gil’ [source], and I just don’t know where the idea that June’s love for Gil was romantic came from. (Actually, I know where. It’s because strong friendships between genders must be romantic; and also because June mentions that they lost their virginity together and sex cancels out platonicness for always and ever.)

It makes me sad, because the fact that June and Gil had this really intense, loving relationship, without it being romantic, was one of the things I loved about the book. It reminded me a bit of the Flora Segunda books, except that those did end up putting Flora and her BFF together romantically.

The other thing I found odd was the people who thought this was a dystopia novel. Am I a bad person because I don’t think that having a sacrificial king necessarily makes a society dystopic? It was a society with good aspects and bad aspects (you know, like the real world). I never felt like we were meant to be condemning it. But apparently some people did: ‘There is no destruction of the system that I had hoped would occur, no revolution to completely change the way things are in Palmares Tres.’ [source] Because a society that has bad elements, like any society does, needs to be destroyed altogether?

Or on the other end of the scale, ‘[I wanted] a more oppressive regime that was actually worth rebelling against.’ [source] Note that in this context, rebellion equals scandalous political art projects.

June faces a conflict in the book because she can’t put her name to these projects without threatening her future prospects (though her future prospects are better than many people’s regardless). So she has to decide whether or not the point of her art is more important than those prospects. Even if Palmares Tres is not that ‘more oppressive regime’. Even if June gets on pretty well in her society; even if she’s not the one suffering.

You hardly have to be living under a despotic regime to want to change the society you live in. And wanting to change your society doesn’t necessarily entail revolution or anarchism.

I found The Summer Prince to be refreshing in how un-dystopic it was, actually. It was nice to read a YA sci-fi novel with big themes and intricate worldbuilding that wasn’t dystopian. The worldbuilding in particular I thought was really well done; Johnson didn’t over-explain things, just gave you enough to go on, as much as the story needed.

I also appreciated that Johnson managed to portray June as being stuck in teenaged self-centredness (at least to start) without it becoming annoying. I found it easy to empathise with the intensity of June’s feelings, even when I could see her anger wasn’t always necessary.

Basically, I thought The Summer Prince was fabulous. Even if not everyone feels the same way.