LOVE IS THE DRUG by Alaya Dawn Johnson releases from Arthur A. Levine books today, September 30th 2014.
From the author of THE SUMMER PRINCE, a novel that’s John Grisham’s THE PELICAN BRIEF meets Michael Crichton’s THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN set at an elite Washington D.C. prep school. Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC’s elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night. Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus–something about her parents’ top secret scientific work–something she shouldn’t know. The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.
Bird and Coffee are tangled in a web of political intrigue and they must unravel the secrets locked in Bird’s memory before a rogue government agent gets to them or their loved ones. This is science fiction at its best, blatantly addressing social issues like class, race, poverty, and substance abuse. Add a touch of humor, a healthy dose of romance, and 352 pages of hard-hitting prose and you’ve got an amazing story.
What I loved: The complex politics and intelligent prose. The challenging relationship between Bird and Coffee. The complex dynamics between Bird and her mother, Carol.
Realistic politics underlie the plot, unlike most YA fiction with its grandiose dystopian conspiracies. The politicians are real people, with believable motivations and reactions. At times the quagmire of political agendas got confusing enough that I had to reread passages, but for me that simply makes it even more realistic – that’s what happens with real politics.
This book made me look things up online. This is not a thing I am known to do. I am the kind of reader that has no problem with suspension of disbelief, who accepts strange plot twists, intuits the meaning of unfamiliar words from context, and doesn’t ask questions. But with this story, I simply had to know! I looked up the side effects of drugs, I researched the history of war in Venezuela, and I tracked down the meaning of chemical equations and political terms.
Emily Bird has known the enigmatic drug dealer Coffee for about a year, and it hasn’t been easy. “I’ve spent a year drowning in you,” Coffee says, and it has a difficult year for them both. Drowning doesn’t feel good, and what Bird and Coffee have isn’t always cherry sweet or perfect. It starts out painful and raw, continues to be really scary, and finally develops into a beautiful, complex, and enviable relationship.
Carol Bird is the idol her daughter Emily is forced to fearfully worship. Carol is a scientist, and might have something to do with the crazy conspiracy theories Coffee has been throwing around, but there is no way for Bird to find out – she barely even talks to or sees her parents. When she does have to be around them, Bird has to focus entirely on not giving in to her mother’s demands, standing up to Carol, and being brave in the face of fear. “Mothers aren’t always right or even always good,” Bird realizes later, and this sets the tone for their relationship in the second half of the book. I respect that not everything is all happy-go-lucky between Bird and her parents at the end of the book – that simply isn’t realistic. It’s obvious that Bird will constantly struggle with her mother, and while it’s a little disheartening, I respect the author’s honesty on that account.
What I wanted more of: Coffee. Coffee was my favorite character, and his development was my favorite part of the story. Seriously, he is perfect in every way, simply because he is so very far from perfect. And the truth is, I got more of him. We spend the entire book in Bird’s point of view, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get to know Coffee intimately. The dialogue is so well done that we feel like we’re seeing the world from Coffee’s point of view, even though we’re removed from it. As a stand-alone novel, LOVE IS THE DRUG is complete, has a satisfying ending, and doesn’t leave the reader wanting more (except for Coffee), although I would definitely welcome a sequel if one ever arises.
The Verdict: I loved every word. I have never annotated a book like I did this one. The pages of the ARC are covered with my reactions, scribbled notes, questions, and thoughts. At one point Bird asks, “What’s the point of being brave if it destroys you?” and the way in which she answers this question could change your life.