FINALLY dystopian YA fiction that takes place somewhere besides the united states! The entire story of The Summer Prince takes place in Brazil a few generations from now. In a world that has been ravaged by nuclear fall out, and Palmares Três is one of the last cosmopolitan cities.
The main character of The Summer Prince is June Castro a 17 year old student and artist in one of the more privileged sectors (sector 8). At the beginning of the story she and her best friend Gil, are religiously following the the Summer prince competition as they are desperately in love with the candidate from Verde (the poorest sector) Enki. Despite the fact that Enki toes the line of what is acceptable for Summer princes– by bringing the plight of the Verde into the city’s consciousness– he is elected Summer King of Palmares Três!
Palmares Três is run by a brutal matriarchy, the government is made up of Aunties and a Queen, who follow a doctrine created by the first queen who survived the fall out. The doctrine mixes Catholicism and Indigenous South American religion, and the long and the short of it is: every year a new king is elected by the people and every winter he will be sacrificed to save the city (as the first queen sacrificed her husband during the fall out).
First thing that I love about this book (I already mentioned) is that it takes place in Latin America. Something that should be evident because of that, but often times isn’t: all of the characters in this story are of color. ALL OF THEM. this is a beautiful and complex story about people of color. Sorry to repeat myself, it’s just such a rarity I want to be sure I drive the point home. Enki, who is considered the most beautiful character by June (and all of Palmares Três for that matter), is a black man with dreadlocks. June herself is not particularly beautiful, and also has some of the lightest skin tones the Aunties allow. Which is a pretty dramatic reversal of the racialized construction of beauty, and one I enjoyed quite a lot.
At the celebration of Enki’s kingship June and Gil are dancing together, Gil is such a good dancer that as soon as Enki enters the room Gil is all that he sees, Gil goes to Enki and falls to his knees, and then Enki and Gil kiss. I didn’t have my queer reading glasses on so it took me a second to realize that Enki and Gil were being gay together. And once I realized that was happening other things came into queer focus (I’m just so used to heteronormativity that I was painting everyone as straight), June’s mother is married to an Auntie! Also none of these characters are “gay” or “lesbian,” Gil has been involved with women, June’s mother was in love with June’s father, Enki and June fall in love and have sex later on in the book: sexual orientation is fluid and nameless. And as a queer reader is was really cool to see.
Also June and Enki become romantically involved not after Gil and Enki’s relationship but during, not like Enki is cheating on Gil, like Enki is getting into multiple consensual relationships. Uh huh, that’s right, this book also features polyamorous relationships! Before Enki and June start being intimate they are artistic collaborators and as they become closer Gil tells June that if they become romantic it would be ok with him. When June, still nervous that Gil might be upset, tells him that the she and Enki have kissed it’s not that Gil doesn’t mind, he’s excited! He’s worried about Enik and believes that June can help keep an eye out for him when Gil cannot. And in a similar situation June is comforted that Gil can be with Enik when she cannot. They have joyous overlapping relationships void of jealousy, if only it was that easy in real life…
Another aspect of this book I enjoyed was it’s exploration of defiance and rebellion. June is an artist, she explores many mediums throughout the book, but one of her first artistic expressions (and the one that’s discussed the most) is graffiti. June goes through great lengths to sneak to do graffiti without getting caught. Enki is constantly toeing or straight up pushing the line of is acceptable King behavior to expose inequalities and corruption in Palmares Três. And June struggles with how much she is willing to give up to do that same. I thought it was really honest and interesting to have a character wrestle with the risks of fighting against the government. June is a person of privilege who has the opportunity to rise to a position of influence, and instead of instantly and easily joining the good fight, she wants desperately to succeed within the institutions that exist. I think a lot of young people will relate to June’s journey to resistance, because she’s so attached to the status quo, it’s a lovely story arch for young people to travel.
Also, I couldn’t find a way to seamlessly incorporate this, but June masterbates and it’s not odd or shameful: she just has a good time, topless in the sun, it’s great. All in all I thought this book well written, compelling, exciting, and covered a lot of worth wild ground. I highly recommend it!