- Release Date: September 30th 2014
- Pages: 352
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)
A few months ago I read Alaya Dawn Johnson's The Summer Prince as my starting point to supporting the We Need Diverse Books campaign and to start including more diverse books in our blog. The Summer Prince started out kind of rocky for me, but morphed into an intricate, creative poignant dystopian tale. When I saw Johnson's next book on NetGalley I jumped at the chance to review it.
In the political, power hungry world of Washington D.C. Our main character 18-year-old Emily Bird occupies a curious space as a black upper class teen in D.C. society. Bird grits her teeth and bares it as her mother, who raised herself up from the lower income Northeast DC neighborhood, pushes Bird to join the Ivy league crowd whether she wants to or not. But when Emily loses hours of memories right before a pandemic flu turns D.C into a quarantine zone, she becomes a girl of her own making. With the help of Coffee, the son of a Brazilian diplomat and new friends, they will uncover her memories and who is trying to keep her from remembering.
There are a lot of things to love about this novel. The way Johnson looks at race and class is something I haven't seen in literature. Usually, the black student at an elite private school is on a scholarship or something, but in this case Bird's family is just as wealthy as any other family. She examines this culture of upper class black students which I found unique.
Johnson's portrayal of Bird's character evolution was perfect. In the beginning she is trapped by her mother's own ambition and slowly she learn to free herself with her own transformation. In the book Bird kind of fights back and forth between going by the name Emily and going by the name Bird (which her love interest, Coffee calls her first) and you can feel her fighting between these two personalities and once she decides who she is going to be the book gets really interesting.
However, the conceit of this novel's plot was really hard for me to believe. Johnson made it seem like there are high stakes involved in what Emily had been made to forget but when it's finally revealed it doesn't seem all that important. As I got to the end, I was reading less for the plot and more for the characters and their relationships.
I think when authors want to know how to write authentic black female characters this is a book to look at, but to remember it’s also only one side of a much more complex story. Johnson took her setting and brought it to life and made me believe in this girl caught up in two worlds. It takes me a while, but once she gets a story rolling, Alaya Dawn Johnson is amazing,
* ARC received from NetGalley