Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Bird’s on the path to the life her mother’s always dreamed for her. She’s got perfect grades, the perfect boyfriend, and perfect friends. She’s a member of the young Washington elite, attending the prestigious Devenshire school with the vice president’s daughter and other children of privilege. She’s everything her parents wanted her to be.
But one night at a party, her boyfriend hands her a drink, and that’s the last thing she remembers. When she wakes up a few days later, she knows something happened, but can’t remember what. And in the meantime, the world is falling apart. A deadly flu virus is devastating the United States, and only her elite standing has kept her safe this far. With a strange man making odd, vaguely threatening comments to her, Bird doesn’t know who to trust. The only person she can turn to is Coffee, an outcast in their prep school … and her drug dealer. But Bird can’t shake the feeling that Coffee is the only person who understands her, and the only person willing to help her find out the truth about that night.
I rarely love YA romance, but this story was an exception. The romance between Bird and Coffee is so emotional and so intense that I could practically feel the tension just reading the pages. I love how Coffee sees Bird for herself – not who everyone else wants her to be. And I love that they repeatedly save one another.
Feminist Score: Good Effort
I love Bird’s transformation throughout the story – and how she really finds herself apart from her school status, parents, and all of the expectations. I was slightly disappointed that the spark for the change came (in part) from a comment by Coffee – but I also realize that’s just one of many factors. But by the end of the book, Bird is exactly the kind of woman that feminists can get behind.
. Diversity Score: A+ Success
This books delves into the complexities of race and privilege in Washington D.C. in so many ways – especially through Bird’s complicated relationship with her mother Carol. Bird’s grown up with everything – but she’s still one of a handful of black students at her school. Her mother fought hard to get her where she is, and refuses to let her slip in any way. According to Carol, anything less than Ivy League shows a lack of ambition, and her daughter is “Harvard, not Howard” material.
Throughout Love is the Drug, Johnson dives into complex issues of the racial politics of the drug war, elitism and race, and finding yourself within your culture.
Awesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success
I was so impressed by Love is the Drug. Not only was the plot super interesting, but it was beautifully written. The opening and closing of nearly every chapter was written like poetry, and the romance was heightened through it. Johnson’s descriptions of Washington D.C. brought me back to my favorite (and least favorite) parts of the city, and it was absolutely beautiful. I’m so glad I read this book.
Coffee – His loyalty to Bird is incredible, and who can’t adore a guy who loves chemistry? I dig nerds, and (apparently) even the drug dealer kind.
There were so many beautiful lines throughout this book. Here’s one of my favorite from the beginning:
“You are Bird, the skylight tells her. Emily fears the world. Bird can solve it. Bird will find her memories and break up with Paul and buy that store she’s always secretly dreamed of, and damn what her mother thinks of goals as humble and unambitious as shopkeeping”
Is this worth a book hangover?
Yes, absolutely. I’m a little wary of end-of-the-world books, but this one is so beautiful. Don’t skip it .
Fun Author(s) Fact
There is not too much information available about Alaya Dawn Johnson’s personal life (which, of course, is a totally valid choice!), but I was blown away by her interview with GayYA on her intentions while writing her first book, The Summer Prince :
Right now there’s a ton of science fiction being published, but so much of it was so white, so much of it so straight. So I kind of got this notion that I could write a science fiction novel that actually took notice of the rest of the world, put black people and the African diaspora front and center, actually open sexually–like, kinda use the power I had to create a whole new world and a whole new future for…a complicated good, I mean, obviously the world in The Summer Prince is not 100 percent wonderful, it’s not a utopia. I mean…In my own thinking of it, it’s a complicated utopia, but anyway.
Much of this still applies to Love is the Drug, and I’m SO impressed by an author that executes so well on these intentions.
Read This Next
This is officially my go-to dystopian book for you now! But if you want to read another impressive black protagonist facing racial challenges, check out This Side of Home by Renee Watson (our review here).
Post Author: Anisha
Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.