Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Posted September 25, 2014 by Sara | Novel Novice 2 Comments


A political thriller full of social commentary about race and class are the focus of Alaya Dawn Johnson’s newest YA novel, Love is the Drug.

love is the drugFrom the author of THE SUMMER PRINCE, a novel that’s John Grisham’s THE PELICAN BRIEF meets Michael Crichton’s THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN set at an elite Washington D.C. prep school.

Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC’s elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night.

Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus–something about her parents’ top secret scientific work–something she shouldn’t know.

The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.

The mystery behind what is truly going on in Love is the Drug is compelling, and is a driving force behind moving the plot forward. But sometimes a book tries to be too much, and tries to address too many subjects — and I think that is ultimately the downfall of Love is the Drug, which often became bogged down by too many elements.

Johnson clearly has a lot to say about race and class — but with a political and medical thriller unfolding alongside these issues, Love is the Drug felt like a book with split personalities. Johnson’s decision to tackle so much within this one book is admirable, but ultimately I think it was a mistake that made the book difficult to read.

I wanted to know what happened, and was compelled to keep reading — but at the same time, I felt frustrated that the mystery did not unfold more smoothly. It felt like the medical/political thriller aspect of the plot was repeatedly put on hold for the social/race aspect of the plot — and the latter was definitely more about social commentary than it was about moving the story forward.

The issues Johnson bring up in Love is the Drug are certainly worth discussing, and worth writing about — especially in YA lit. I just don’t think the combination works in this case, given how much the quality of the book itself suffers for it.

Love is the Drug is in stores September 30th.

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Sara | Novel Novice
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2 responses to “Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

  1. ccplteenunderground

    Thanks for your honesty! The summary sounds a little ambitious, so I’m not shocked to hear that this book tried to take on a little more than it could realistically handle. Do you think it’s worth the read, or one to pass up for the many other great new books out there?

    • Sara | Novel Novice

      Ooh, that’s a tough call. I never want to say “don’t read a book” … and I know other people have liked this book much more than I did. (I think Kirkus and/or PW gave it a starred review.) For me personally, it’s a book I wish I had passed up and used the time to read something else.

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