Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The author of The Summer Prince returns with another wild ride of a book. Emily attends a prestigious prep school in Washington, DC. Her parents have raised her not to ask questions and to show respect at all times. She has her entire life under control: she’s part of the top group of girls at school, she has the ideal boyfriend, and she’s headed for Stanford in the fall, one of the small ways in which she is defying her mother. But when she meets Roosevelt, a government agent, at a party, her entire life changes. She wakes up days later with missing memories of that night, knowing only that her boyfriend helped get her into a car, took her away from the party, and that another boy, Coffee, desperately tried to stop them. Meanwhile, the entire United States is caught in a viral disaster with many people dying. Even Emily’s parents are trapped on the other side of the quarantine. Now Emily is left to put the pieces of her memory back together and figure out the truth of why the government is interested in a high school senior.
Johnson writes with an elegant looseness here, along for the ride of the story arc with the reader. There is a lot going on here, from budding romances to breakups to government agents to worldwide plagues to harsh parenting. Yet somehow, amazingly, it holds together into a book that is an astonishing pleasure to read. Well suited to the world of teens caught in a viral outbreak, the free flowing nature of this novel allows those teens space to breath, moments to connect, and a fairly rule-free environment to explore.
This is not a mystery where the pieces click together at the end into a satisfying result. Rather it is an exploration of a theme with one great protagonist at the center, a girl who struggles with female friendship, refuses to fall in love with the boy she clearly connects with, and who battles her mother’s control even from afar. Emily reinvents herself in this new world she finds herself in, and that is the story and the point. This is a refreshing read that defies the expectations of dystopian fiction and creates something new.
A dystopian fantasy with an African-American heroine, this teen novel will appeal greatly to some readers who enjoy a lively, loose and wild read. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.