By Alaya Dawn Johnson
Available now from Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic)
Read my review of The Summer Prince
Emily Bird - Emily to most, Bird to the best - is a senior at one of the most prestigious high schools in the country. She doesn't entirely fit in, being one of the few black kids. She also doesn't fit in because she might be going along with her mother's plan to go to college (and thinking of Stanford for herself), but her real goal is to run a small shop. (Not that having a business degree wouldn't help with that, but it never comes up.)
When LOVE IS THE DRUG opens, Bird is at a party with her boyfriend. She meets a man who works with her parents and drops the name of a lab she once saw in the trash. What follows is a nightmare as the man stalks her, threatens her friends and family, and messes with her life in an attempt to get her to confess what she knows. It just makes Bird determined to find the truth, and to discover whether she really did find out a national secret that night.
This thriller plays out against a widespread plague, the worst since the Spanish flu. The v-flu, as it is known, is being held back by a quarantine. Bird is as safe as can be in her high-class school full of politician's kids. But how is the country ensuring that those kids stay so safe? And, of course, does the flu have anything to do with what Bird might know? Unrealistic diseases are a pet peeve of mine, so I like that this flu plays out like a real disease. There's no killing everyone over 25 or anything silly like that.
I loved the paranoid atmosphere of LOVE IS THE DRUG, although I felt the plot faltered at the end. There were a lot of ideas but nowhere for them to go. And the romance dragged the whole thing down. Bird falls for Coffee, the one guy who really gets her. He's also a drug dealer, and the story never really convinced me to get over it. He's just the cliche soulful, smart bad boy. Now, Marella, Blue's lesbian friend, is where it's at. Their friendship blooms throughout the pages, starting warily and growing as they're stuck in quarantine together. I think they spend more time together than Blue and Coffee, and honestly have better chemistry. I wished I were reading a more inventive lesbian romance instead of what the book actually was.
LOVE IS THE DRUG has its high points. I loved Bird's relationship with her uncle, the disappointment of her family. I loved the way LOVE IS THE DRUG tackled social issues, from being black to being foreign to being LGBTQ. Alaya Dawn Johnson really brought the diversity of DC to life. There are strong characters, a compelling atmosphere, and beautiful writing, but a boring romance and a plot that never has any steam. Johnson has written better.