Google+ YA Romantics: Just Finished Reading ... Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Just Finished Reading ... Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Love is the Drug
by Alaya Dawn Johnson
To be published by Arthur A. Levine
on September 30, 2014

Source: e-ARC from the publisher

Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.
My take: I didn't read Alaya Dawn Johnson's debut YA book,  The Summer Prince, but after reading Love is the Drug, I'm going to remedy that as soon as possible. I think she's a fantastic writer.

So I'll start with the things I loved about this book. The writing was great. Bird was such a complex and compelling character once I got to know her. Bird's parents are government scientists, and Bird's mother has carefully charted an upwardly mobile path for her daughter -- exclusive D.C. prep school, straightened hair, appropriate boyfriend. Bird's relationship with her mother was so well-drawn, so perfect in its portrayal of the complicated tangle of love, dis/approval and weighty expectations that characterizes most parent-child relationships. As a parent, I always appreciate when adult characters in YA are three-dimensional. Yes, Bird's mother is tightly wound, even scarily controlling, but the book also shows the fear and vulnerability underneath. In many ways, I'd call this a classic coming-of-age story, as Bird struggles to take control herself, to chart her own destiny.

However, this book was pitched as a thriller, breathlessly described on Goodreads as The Pelican Brief meets the Andromeda Strain. I'm a fan of both Grisham and Crichton, but to me, this was a totally different kind of book -- more literary and not so fast-paced. Mass market thrillers work when their concept is easily grasped: what if dinosaur DNA were discovered and extracted and new dinosaurs were cloned for a theme park? What if Supreme Court justices were being murdered in order to swing the vote on a case? Good, page-turning fun.

Love is the Drug can't be easily boiled down to a tagline. The story starts at a party, a gathering that begins with a bunch of under-the-influence teenagers and ends up with Bird in the hospital. She spends a long time trying to get answers about what happened to her. At the same time, the country is grappling with a deadly flu epidemic. Cities are quarantined, people are dying. Bird thinks she can get answers about the party from a fellow student slash conspiracy theorist slash small-time drug dealer named Coffee. But he's gone into hiding.

The whole "virus as a conspiracy" part of the story got confusing for me. There's the insinuation that Bird "saw something" or "knew something" and I kept (morbidly) wondering why, if that were the case, Bird didn't get murdered. I mean, what better opportunity to get rid of an inconvenient person than during a deadly epidemic? (Yes, that's the way my twisted mind works. My husband says he sleeps with one eye open.) I typically find these sorts of conspiracy books kind of bloodless because there's often no identifiable villain, just a "vast multinational conspiracy". This book does offer one, but he came off as too bland for me, just showing up to act mysterious and make vague threats. (There is a cool twist at the end with him, though.)

There is also a love triangle of sorts. But I would like to argue that this is the acceptable kind of love triangle, not the kind just written to manufacture drama. As Bird decides between the two boys, one "appropriate" as defined by her mother and one completely inappropriate, she begins to come into her own.

For me, Love is the Drug wasn't a perfect book, but still an interesting and engaging one.  My favorite aspect of the book was by far the mother-daughter relationship and to me, the conspiracy stuff didn't add much to the story. But I'm now a fan of Alaya Dawn Johnson and I look forward to reading more of her work.

14 comments:

  1. Wonderful! I've been eyeing this one for a while. I'm a huge fan of contagion apocalypse in films and books, so this one is right up my alley. I haven't read any of this author's work either but I have to check out The Summer Prince, for sure.

    Great review, Jen.

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    1. Not me! I'm a hypochondriac and these kind of stories have me twitching. Movies like this I can't handle at all. But let me know what you think of this one when you get to it!

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  2. This book sounds so interesting. I love things to do with contagious outbreaks, etc. Makes me nervous too Jen XD I watched Contagion, I almost peed my pants! I still wanna read this, though

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    1. My husband watched it and I could not watch. No way!

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  3. I'm so going to read this - I read The Summer Prince by her and had a lot of issues with it but I was still so impressed with her imagination and writing. It sounds like you had a similar reaction here, and even with the issues you mention I still think it sounds cool. Lovely review!

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    1. I think you may feel the same about this one. As a thriller, it didn't entirely work for me, but I really loved other aspects of it!

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  4. Ugh, i am not a fan of love triangles--their only purpose is to create drama and most of the time, it's completely unnecessary. Good to see that this had great writing!

    Lovely review, Jen! <33

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    1. Well, since this one is not to create drama, I'm good with it :)

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  5. Hmm, I have yet to hear of this book. Thanks for the review.

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  6. This sounds really good! I haven't come across it before now so thanks for sharing!

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  7. This one does sound a bit intriguing (the names though LOL! Best ever.) but I honestly wasn't a huge fan of The Summer Prince so I might not like this one--eeks! >.<

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  8. I like the sound of it so I will definitely check it out. Nice review!

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  9. I heard a lot about this at TLA, but I haven't gotten around to reading it, yet. It looks really interesting, though!

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