Book Review: Love Is the Drug
It's a rare YA novel that combines entertainment and social commentary this gracefully
Reviewed by Amy Kamp, Fri., Oct. 17, 2014
Love Is the Drugby Alaya Dawn Johnson
Arthur A. Levine Books, $17.99
It's not uncommon to read a novel that tries to combine entertainment with social commentary, but it's rare to find one that does it gracefully. Somehow Alaya Dawn Johnson pulls off this feat in her latest book, Love Is the Drug. Set in an alternative present where a deadly flu is causing chaos and mass death throughout the U.S., the novel follows teenage Emily Bird, the daughter of an elite pair of CIA-employed scientists, as she tries to figure out who or what is really behind the sudden pandemic. Bird's under pressure from her parents to become a "model of successful black womanhood," but it's not spoiling anything to reveal that she's a better match for her prep school's resident bad boy, the drug-dealing but sensitive Coffee, than she is for her exhaustingly ambitious boyfriend, Paul. The characters might sound like cliches in summary, but Johnson is a confident enough writer to allow them the moral complexity they need to seem real. Her disinterest in making sure her young readers learn a lesson may make their parents and teachers nervous, but it also makes this a book that just about anyone can read and enjoy, including fans of YA, romance, speculative fiction, and good writing wherever it happens to be found.
Alaya Dawn Johnson will appear on the panel "Stakes Are High, Tensions Run Higher" with Paolo Bacigalupi (The Doubt Factory), Jason Reynolds (When I Was the Greatest), Becca Fitzpatrick (Black Ice), and Lauren Oliver (Panic) Saturday, Oct. 18, 12:25pm, in the Gym (RCC).