Book Review: Young Adult: Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Love is the Drug cover

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.

Title: Love is the Drug
Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Thriller
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Format: DRC from Netgalley
Length: 355 pages
ISBN-10: 0545417813
ISBN-13: 0545417813

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:

Themes: Family, Trust, Epidemics, Bioterrorism
POV: 3rd person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa

Where I Got It: Nick scored the DRC from NetGalley. I’m glad to find something in the thriller genre that doesn’t also touch on dystopia. Not that I dislike dystopia, but it’s nice to have a break now and again.

Cover Notes: Simple, but effective. It does follow the thriller dystopian trend of having a basic color and a symbol, but I would totally pick this up in a bookstore.

Soundtrack: I found my X-Files soundtrack perfect for this one.


This is a difficult book to review. It had many elements that I loved in isolation. The main character is a well-off black girl living in DC. There are shady operatives everywhere, and the plot is based on biology and epidemiology. The main character is coming to a realization that not everything is the way she thought it was, and that “perfect” is an illusion. I love all these things in a book, especially a YA book. But!

This book is smack-dab in the thriller genre, and so is basically every single trope, convention, and character archetype. There’s basically nothing seasoned thriller fans haven’t seen before. Seasoned romance readers will also be quite familiar with the way this book goes. For the most part, the pace was fast enough that I did’t stop to think about these things too hard, but when I did, the cracks showed pretty clearly. I’m sure many readers will say it’s just a consequence of the genre. For that reason, didn’t mark the book down in those areas as much as I might have otherwise.

Another issue I had with the book was the love interest. Coffee is a drug dealer. We first meet him snorting coke in the basement at a party. He seems like a nice dude. He claims drugs to him, especially his own personal formulas, are mind-expanders in his pursuit of enlightenment. But I dislike the fact that the cynic whistle-blower in these sort of books is always a criminal of soe sort. He also takes the role of the magical poor person, because of course all the rich folks are clueless or corrupt, and can’t see past their selfish goals. It’s quite a “teenage rebellion” cliche with all the tropes, including the “perfect”, popular boyfriend who’s going places, that everyone knows the MC would be perfect with, pitted against the bad boy loner with a few good friends who’s so “real”, and “bad” for her supposed goals. Again, this could just be my personal preference. Plenty of books with similar romance plots have sold very well, so I didn’t mark the book down too much for this.

The plot itself is quite tight, and has few holes. It’s no particularly creative, but the writer has a great sense of pacing, and you’ll keep turning the pages. You can see most of the twists coming, but at least they make sense for the most part. There were a few times when the book was confusing, such as when it would switch to first person seemingly randomly. I think it was a narrative device the author was trying out. I don’t think it worked too well.

The main character, Bird, has a good teenage voice. That’s an important aspect of a good YA novel, and Johnson has it nailed down. The fact that she is black comes across very clearly. I didn’t find myself falling into the default white MC trap. She responded mostly realistically to the various revelations, and she had that teenage flip-flopping/back-and-forth thing going on, especially in her romantic life. There was strong but realistic peer-pressure. She didn’t come across as whiny or immature. This was one of the more positive aspects of Johnson’s writing.

I found this book pretty average. I’m writing this review a few weeks after finishing the book, and I had to remind myself of a few things. But I would definitely pick up another book by this author, assuming the back cover sounded good.

Conclusion: 74/100 (Mildly entertaining, but not fantastic)
Premise: 6/10 (Standard thriller premise)
Plot: 8/10 (Well-constructed but not very original)
Setting: 7/10 (Could have been anywhere, really)
Main Character: 8/10 (Good concept, decent execution)
Romance sub-plot: 6/10 (Cliche, but decently written)
Love Interest: 7/10 (Not a fan of the noble badboy trope)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (Standard thriller cliches)
Writing: 4/5 (Not bad enough to make me stumble)
Voice: 4/5 (Good when not confusing)
Themes: 7/10 (Fairly cliche approach)
Resolution: 8/10 (Nice twist)

Buy Or Borrow: Definitely worth a buy, if you like thrillers or conspiracies

Similar Books:
There are a surprisingly small number of YA thrillers that don’t strongly overlap with another genre such as dystopia or speculative fiction. I might update this section as I run across more.

Other Reviews:
Publishers Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
Lit Up Review
Teen Librarian Toolbox
YA Books Central
Dreams in Tandem

Buy Links:
Barnes and Noble

Kindle UK Not currently available
Kindle US
Google Play


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