Book Review: Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher:   Arthur A. Levine Books

Summary:   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.

I've had this in my TBR pile too long and as 2017 is my year of focused clearing of backlist books, I decided to give this one a go. Prep school senior, Emily Bird wakes up in a hospital after having been drugged to the point that her memory of the events of a night are gone and Washington DC is on the verge of full on outbreak crisis intervention and none of that is the worst news.

I expected more intrigue and urgency given the global outbreak of a virus that's decimating the population with some martial law tossed in but this book was surprisingly low-key. I stayed with the story because I was very interested in the characters, most specifically Bird (Emily), Coffee (Alonso), Aaron, Marella, Nicky and even the villainous Roosevelt. I was confused by Bird's parents, Carol and Greg. I suppose that was to be expected as Bird is afraid of her mother (with good reason and so was I) and distant from her father but as this story is told in shifting POVs and not told strictly in Bird's voice, I feel there could have been more provided for clarity with the family dynamic. Aaron was the best kid I've had the pleasure to read in a while and I even liked Nicky. While he may not be a paragon of success, he worked consistently to provide for his family, wasn't in any way a criminal and his children knew they were loved. He treated Bird like a second daughter and made her feel a part of a family. One more reason for me to put Carol Bird on ignore. Marella won all the true BFF points and I was pulling for her too. If there's ever a sequel to Love is the Drug or a Marella in Paris story, I'd read that.

By book's end, while the answer to how Bird was drugged and why is given, it was revealed in a way that didn't deliver a punch given all the build up. Again, the urgency was just about non-existent. I thought the relationship between Bird and Coffee was well done and I really liked that this story allowed her to grow on her own so she could save herself and the boy she loved. Bird also didn't display any characteristics or abilities out of the blue to solve her problems and I was glad of that. No insta-solutions or insta-love here and if I could find more YA like this, I'd read them. Another thing that was refreshing was to have Bird be told by Marella and those who were supposed to be her friends before, that she (Bird) either wasn't holding up her end of the friend ship or she wasn't trustworthy. It's not often you have a main character girl in YA who isn't universally & inexplicably loved by all when she does nothing to draw those feelings. Bird had to earn them and improve herself. Well done, ADJ. Points also to the author for the Jack and Jill mentions. I can't recall the last time I came across that in a novel. I also liked the conflict in Bird, a privileged girl of color, on how to be Black in a world where her parents want her to be a proud and accomplished African American but "not too black" so as to single her out in the profoundly white world they've raised her in. This extends to something as simple as how she wears her hair. The socially acceptable pod of other African American teens she's around also exercise a certain amount of pressure to conform and it was interesting how they felt mostly sequestered off from white students (Charlotte notwithstanding). Making the chemist/drug dealer, conspiracy theorist, the root worthy character, is a hell of a feat to pull off but the author does so here and it's believable. He and Marella (who was Black & openly gay, so had her own outcast issues from the "socially acceptable" groups) were the only people who seemed able to accept Bird for who she was & wanted to be.

The way this ends, I could envision a sequel because the danger is still out there. Bird, Coffee & Marella globe trekking, just a step ahead of the enemy could be fun & hopefully have a high-octane feel now that they're out of high school. Recommended.

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