The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer PrinceI meant to read this book back when it came out, but somehow I just never got around to it. First there were other books, then there was a mild internet controversy over how well the race/ethnicity portion of the book came off, then there were other books again. But this month has been a really weird month of reading for me and I needed a book that was fun, interesting, and, most importantly, short, and this fit the bill.

In the world of The Summer Prince, bad things have happened to the Earth and the people who have survived them have largely moved to the Equatorial regions where there are seasons instead of the perpetual winter you find everywhere else. At the same time, humans have been developing gene therapies or something that keeps them living much longer, to where 250 years old is the new 90.

This story takes place in Palmares Tres, a big shiny glass building of a city in Brazil, run by “Aunties” and a queen who has ruled for decades. In this matriarchal society, kings are elected every five years to rule for one year, doing really not much ruling but instead preparing to sacrifice themselves at the end of the year to choose the new queen. In this particular election year, an 18-year-old called Enki is elected, to the delight of our hero, June, but it becomes quickly obvious that he is not intending to rule quietly. Instead, June and Enki take art to the streets to protest pretty much all the things that make Palmares Tres the city that June loves.

So, it definitely hits that “interesting” mark dead on. I really liked the worldbuilding in this story, from the physical style of the city to its struggles with age, class, race, technology, isolationism… it’s really cool. I don’t remember that mild internet controversy well enough to really discuss it, but I thought Johnson did a good job with all of the prejudices that mix in this novel.

It also hit the “fun” mark pretty well, as the beginning of the book is filled with June’s graffiti art escapades and the impropriety of Enki as summer king. But eventually things turn serious, and the implications of June’s actions and Enki’s shenanigans become dangerous, and it’s still pretty cool but it loses a lot of the fun. There are long passages of lecture on morality and some anvil-subtle scenes that drive home those struggles I mentioned above.

Luckily it was a short book, so even though I kind of wanted to set it aside when it got serious I was almost done and I saw it through. I’m glad I did finish it, even if the ending was terribly predictable, and overall I did enjoy my time with it. If you’re in my same reading slump boat, though, don’t mistake this for the brain candy I thought it was!

Recommendation: For lovers of quasi-dystopian futures and near-future worldbuilding.

Rating: 6/10

Love is the Drug, by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Love is the DrugI had picked this book up as an advance copy at last year’s ALA conference because, I mean, that cover, but it went straight into the teen giveaway box and not into my grubby little hands. But after the umpteenth time the internets told me good things about it, I was like, fine, internets, I will read this book.

And I’m glad I did! I was disappointed that the book wasn’t quite the suspenseful thriller I was promised, but when I eventually figured that out, I started liking it a lot more.

See, what happens is, a teenage girl called Bird goes to a fancy-pants networking party at a classmate’s house, talks some dangerous talk around some CIA-type dude, and then wakes up eight days later to find out that she apparently got both super drunk and super high and got herself in a car accident. CIA dude, Roosevelt, is rather pointedly wondering if perhaps she remembers anything from that night, and in fact she does — but what she remembers doesn’t quite match up with what he’s telling her.

So Bird starts asking around, trying to figure out what really happened, while meanwhile a terrorist-spread flu virus is taking down city after city around the world and her drug-dealer friend is hiding from the cops because he’s accused of giving Bird whatever made her so high and also Bird is just trying to make it through senior year in the hopes that there will be a college for her to go to next fall.

Oh, and, love triangle. Ish. It’s not a terrible one but it still made me roll my eyes quite often.

I enjoyed the story a lot, and I very much wanted to know what Bird knew and why anyone wanted to know it as well and what exactly was up with her parents and their top-secret everything. I liked the DC setting a lot, including the juxtaposition between Bird at fancy private school and Bird at “home” with her uncle in the decidedly-not-fancy part of DC and Bird with her various rich and scholarship friends at school. There’s a definite focus on class and race and especially what it means to be Black and how much presentation matters in being taken seriously.

Things I didn’t like include the ending, which is practically epilogue-ish in its efforts to tie everything up in a pretty bow, and the fact that so much of this entire story could have been avoided if only people would just freaking talk to each other. On the plus side, the lack of communication is actually well done and feels different depending on who is failing to communicate. Bird just really really needs to get new friends. And parents. And probably enemies.

So, all around, a pretty good book! I’ll definitely be checking out more from this author in the future.

Recommendation: For fans of teens solving problems and getting into fairly dangerous situations in the process.

Rating: 7/10