Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson Book Review

Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: September 30, 2014

Emily Bird was raised to not ask questions. She is supposed to be the perfect child. Smart, obedient, and headed for an Ivy-league school. Then one night at a party, Bird meets a man named Roosevelt, a homeland security agent who may be linked to her parents and their secretive jobs. Eight days later she is waking up in a hospital with no memory of that night or the ones in-between. While she was unconscious, she also finds that a deadly flu virus has swept the nation. Roosevelt clearly believes that Bird remembers or knows something she shouldn't, but what is it? The only person Bird can trust is Coffee, a genius outsider who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. Coffee tried to help her that night. As Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what happened, Bird stumbles across one of the biggest government scandals in US history.

I like dystopian. Whether it is set while the pending apocalypse is taking place or far into the future, I am always entertained by the worlds that authors create. What made this story chilling yet entirely boring was that this world is our own. Nothing is different and I dare say, after the Ebola outbreak last year, a little too realistic.

There is a lot of emphasis placed on drugs in this story, with Bird eventually trying some hallucinogens in hopes of regaining her lost memories. What wasn't clear to me was why each chapter began with a drug chemical composition because in the end, none of it mattered. This story wasn't about drugs or at least it shouldn't have been. It was about cover-ups and mistakes. It was about what lengths some people will do to keep a secret and what others will do to find one.

Sadly, the pacing of this story felt very off. Things happened agonizingly slow. Almost a month passes between that one fateful night and Bird attempting to get her memories back and we get to be with her through all of those tortuous weeks. Also, lucky us, we get to watch as she slowly falls in love with Coffee and comes into her new identity that is no longer under her mother's thumb. To be clear this book was not badly written, it had complex characters and culture and paid great attention to detail. Bird's parents oscillate between sympathetic and cruel. Bird herself struggles with her identity not only as a woman, but also a woman of color, and her her place in her family and her family's expectations.

A thumb's up for the setting being somewhere besides New York City or California and two thumbs up for the fact that this is ultimately a light science fiction with a young black woman as it's main protagonist. Not to mention that most of the main characters in this book are people of color. I wish that this was a normal occurrence, but sadly it is not and so I will continue to hold books like this up high, even if I didn't like it, as a great example of what diversity can look like in any genre.