Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Summer Prince

I used to be a die-hard read-to-the-end reader. Maybe it was Puritan work ethic from growing up in New England; maybe it was optimism; maybe I had too much time on my hands? Over the years as a bookseller, my willingness to put a book down developed to what I imagine as near the decisiveness editors and agents must have. Unless someone I know and trust has recommended something, if a book doesn't grab me right away, I often put it down and move right on the the next in my overflowing to-read pile.
When I picked up The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson and read the first page, for some reason I wasn't hooked. Carnivale and an execution? Nah. I pushed it aside. But the next morning, the book called to me from my discard pile. I tried again. After several chapters, I came up for air--briefly-- then dove right back in.
This unique and fascinating teen novel is like Margaret Atwood with a samba beat. Once I let the language and the future-foreignness absorb me, I was completely hooked.
Wakas are the young people and grandes are the mature ruling class of Palmares Tres, a tenuous paradise city built of interconnected glass bubbles, floating on the ocean and ruled by a matriarchy of Aunties and the Queen-- a government that is cyclically blood-thirsty, requiring the sacrifice of a chosen Summer King every five years to sanctify the reign of the Queen.
June is an aspiring artist and the stepdaughter of one of the Aunties. June and her best friend, Gil, a dancer, are prone to large gestures and devotion to Art. When Enki, a dancer who came up from the lower class in the verde, the bottom level of the pyramid and society, is chosen as the Summer King, both June and Gil are attracted to Enki's charisma, elegance, power, and message. What could have been a traditional love triangle (albeit with one couple a same-sex couple) becomes a much more complicated dance when not just sex but art causes passions to flame.
Over the whole book lies the knowledge of Enki's impending sacrifice.
Suspense, drama, love, steamy sensuality, justice, art-- to think I might have missed all that on a snap judgment! I'm so glad I picked this back up. Let me be the one to tell you--give The Summer Prince at least a chapter. And if you're not into it by then, just set it aside and wait for a day you're feeling adventurous and willing to go out on a reading limb. It's strange and satisfying, fresh and fascinating.