June and her male friend Gil "solved our virginity problem together a few years ago," June explains, suggesting that Palmeres Três' openness to sexuality extends to teens, as well as to adults (58). Though Gil has continued to be sexually active with others, June has not. But when June and Gil catch sight of the new summer king, a dark-skinned boy from the verde, the lowest and least privileged level of the city, both are smitten. Even knowing that vibrant young Enki is slated to be sacrificed, his throat slit in a public ritual at the end of his one-year rein, does not dampen their attraction. It's male Gil, though, not female June, who first catches Enki's eye. Though "everyone knows that summer kings screw like mayflies," (49), the dance Gil and Enki share during Enki's first public appearance as king leads to a romantic relationship, a relationship that flourishes into love.
Unfortunately, Palmeres Três is not as equitable in regards to class and skin color as it is to sexuality. Enki uses both his dark-skinned body and his public platform to give subtle reminders to the privileged in Palmeres Três of the inequities of their society, inequities that their tiered geography makes it only too easy to ignore. June, a visual artist who "live[s] for spectacle, for the construction of emotional states and the evocation of suppressed feelings," begins to recognize a kindred artistic spirit in Enki (33). Knowing that "two artists can create work together that they can never imagine alone," June paints a transgressive public mural to capture Enki's attention, telling herself all the while that her desire has nothing to do with her attraction to the summer king, or her jealousy of Gil (66). Soon June and Enki are scheming to create a major public art display, one designed to capture the attention of the entire city and remind it of the injustices upon which it rests. And as they plot and plan, June finds herself falling in love not with the image of Enki, but with the rebellious, transgressive, doomed-to-die king himself.
Or is Enki's only real goal to point his country in a different direction by refusing his one important role as summer king: to re-anoint the current Queen at the moment of his ritual death?
June, also, proves an elusive character, as well as an often annoying one. She's an artist, but we never get a strong sense of why, of what art means to her beyond a vehicle to garner praise and prestige. The demands of plot, rather than of her character, seem to be why she makes an incredibly selfish decision mid-book, a decision likely to turn off readers just at the point where they should be rooting for a protagonist. Is she worthy of Enki's admiration? Of ours?
Perhaps, though, some books, some characters, do not need to provide us with the answers. Maybe it is enough that they, like Enki, show us what questions need to be asked. Only then can we, blind and unworthy Junes though we may be, choose whether or not to take on the painful task of finding answers, answers that do justice to the difficulties of the questions, and to the courage of those willing to ask them.
*The women of Herland have discovered a way to reproduce via parthenogenesis, so men are truly unnecessary.
The Summer Prince.
Arthur A. Levine/ Scholastic, 2013.