Friday, March 15, 2013

New novel strong contribution to popular genre

by Rachel Diebel, A&E Writer

The buzzword in young adult literature today is ‘dystopian.’  Dystopian novels are becoming smash hits, from “The Hunger Games” to the “Divergent” trilogy. 

In a world where traditional publishing is struggling to keep up with modern technology, dystopian books are selling thousands of copies and being made into equally lucrative movies.

One book that delves deeply into the idea of a dystopian society is “The Summer Prince,” Alaya Dawn Johnson’s first young adult novel.

Set in a futuristic Brazil after the Y Plague nearly wipes men from the planet, the novel tells the story of June, a budding artist, and Enki, a handsome young man in the running to be the city’s new king.

The catch is that the city is matriarchal — men have been deemed too selfish and power hungry to rule — and the king is merely a figurehead that rules for a year before being ritually sacrificed.

The novel’s strength resides in its lyrical language and inventive world building. 

“The Summer Prince’s” language reads almost like a song, and the more details the reader gets about the technologically advanced but still devastated world Enki and June inhabit, the happier they are.

Fortunately, details like these are frequent, and the reader gets a full description of the magnificent city of Palmares Três where the novel is set. 

Palmares Três is quite literally a major character in and of itself.  Built out on a bay, it is a so-called “vertical city,” meaning that it is built in the shape of a glass pyramid.

Palmares Três is a giant machine, with a government run by senator-like “Aunties” and day-to-day operations run by various mechanical robots and 'spiders.' 

The pyramid shape of the city is a physical representation of the inequality that still persists, despite the best efforts of the Aunties.

Composed of 10 tiers, the richest live on the top tier while the poor are relegated to the verde - the green algae pits at the bottom.

However, themes like these that the novel plays on are getting tired.

Like all of the dystopian books to come before it, “The Summer Prince” is about censorship, antiquity versus modernity and how far society can afford to let technology advance.

While all of these are important, Johnson doesn’t have much to add to the arguments of the books that have come before hers.

Johnson does contribute to a new ideal in the societal acceptance of homosexuality, however.

Interestingly, homosexuality is so common and accepted that no one thinks twice if characters talk of attraction to both men and women on the same page. 

After a plague that nearly eliminated all men and a struggle to repopulate, a stigmatism against any relationship that doesn’t propagate the species might have been expected.

Johnson takes the opposite tack, and sends a clear message that, while Palmares Três contends with many societal problems, homophobia is not one of them.

 “The Summer Prince” is a worthy addition to the dystopian genre.

It is a quick, poetic read that may not make you think about things from a new perspective, but will at least leave you questioning.