After a nuclear winter, survivors in Brazil build the towering pyramid city of Palmares Tres, where every five years an elected king chooses a Queen and is then sacrificed. Privileged, rebellious young artist June Costas is mesmerized by this year’s election, and she fiercely favors Enki, a beautiful boy from the bottom tier, the world of the algae vats and the perpetual stink. After his election, June and her best friend are drawn into Enki’s world. With only a year to live, he is a brilliant and fast-burning star whose light opens June’s eyes not to the serious issues—and corruption— affecting her city, and with her art, she helps to release a surge of discontent. In this YA debut, Johnson paints a brilliant picture of a seemingly lush paradise hiding a core rotted by class stratification, creative stagnation, and disenfranchisement. Evocative, disturbing, and exhilarating, this story leaves much for the reader to ponder, from the nuanced characters to fascinating central themes, including the impact of technology and the role of isolationism in a perilous world. Like leaping into cold water on a hot day, this original dystopian novel takes the breath away, refreshes, challenges, and leaves the reader shivering but yearning for another plunge.
— Lynn Rutan, Booklist
"Eighteen-year-old artist June Costa is a citizen of Palmares Três, a vertically structured city in what was once Brazil, with the rich at the top, the poor at the bottom, and a vital tradition of music and dance. Its centenarian queen keeps a tight rein on the tech—electronic and pharmaceutical—that allows for intensive state security and bodily modification. Privileged but rebellious June and her best friend Gil live on Tier Eight, and when they get involved with Enki, a beautiful bottom-tier resident who will serve a year as the summer king before his ritual sacrifice, her political art gains attention, and things get dangerous. In her YA debut, Johnson (the Spirit Binders series) depicts a future that’s recognizably Brazilian and human—June may have nanohooks, holo screens, and light implants, but 400 years on, teens still resent their parents and find ways to subvert the technology their elders theoretically control. With its complicated history, founding myth, and political structure, Palmares Três is compelling, as is the triple bond between June, Enki, and Gil as they challenge their world’s injustices. " - Publishers Weekly
An art project, a rebellion and a sacrifice make up this nuanced, original cyberpunk adventure.
"June, 17, remembers the last sacrifice of the Summer King, nine years before. In a future Brazil, after climate change, wars, natural disasters and plague have devastated the world, Palmares Três is a peaceful and just city, technologically supported with holos, nanohooks and bots. Beneath the city's glittering facade, however, there's another reality. Youth is stifled while the governing Aunties keep Palmares Três static in a class-stratified society centuries behind the rest of the developed world. June and best friend Gil, both relatively privileged artists, happily spend their spring dancing, creating public art and voting for the newest Summer King to be sacrificed for the city's prosperity after a year. When gorgeous, dark-skinned Enki is elected, both June and Gil fall for him—but it's Gil he takes as a lover, and June he takes as an artistic collaborator. Their love triangle, in a city with no gender-based limitations on romantic or sexual partnerships, is multifaceted, not the usual heroine-chooses-between-two-boys dynamic. As the trio dances—often literally—around one another, June must negotiate between the extremes of stasis and post-humanism, learn to see beyond herself, discover the meaning of integrity, and maybe even save her rotten-at-the-core and best-beloved city." - Kirkus starred review