Love is the Drug, by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Love is the DrugI had picked this book up as an advance copy at last year’s ALA conference because, I mean, that cover, but it went straight into the teen giveaway box and not into my grubby little hands. But after the umpteenth time the internets told me good things about it, I was like, fine, internets, I will read this book.

And I’m glad I did! I was disappointed that the book wasn’t quite the suspenseful thriller I was promised, but when I eventually figured that out, I started liking it a lot more.

See, what happens is, a teenage girl called Bird goes to a fancy-pants networking party at a classmate’s house, talks some dangerous talk around some CIA-type dude, and then wakes up eight days later to find out that she apparently got both super drunk and super high and got herself in a car accident. CIA dude, Roosevelt, is rather pointedly wondering if perhaps she remembers anything from that night, and in fact she does — but what she remembers doesn’t quite match up with what he’s telling her.

So Bird starts asking around, trying to figure out what really happened, while meanwhile a terrorist-spread flu virus is taking down city after city around the world and her drug-dealer friend is hiding from the cops because he’s accused of giving Bird whatever made her so high and also Bird is just trying to make it through senior year in the hopes that there will be a college for her to go to next fall.

Oh, and, love triangle. Ish. It’s not a terrible one but it still made me roll my eyes quite often.

I enjoyed the story a lot, and I very much wanted to know what Bird knew and why anyone wanted to know it as well and what exactly was up with her parents and their top-secret everything. I liked the DC setting a lot, including the juxtaposition between Bird at fancy private school and Bird at “home” with her uncle in the decidedly-not-fancy part of DC and Bird with her various rich and scholarship friends at school. There’s a definite focus on class and race and especially what it means to be Black and how much presentation matters in being taken seriously.

Things I didn’t like include the ending, which is practically epilogue-ish in its efforts to tie everything up in a pretty bow, and the fact that so much of this entire story could have been avoided if only people would just freaking talk to each other. On the plus side, the lack of communication is actually well done and feels different depending on who is failing to communicate. Bird just really really needs to get new friends. And parents. And probably enemies.

So, all around, a pretty good book! I’ll definitely be checking out more from this author in the future.

Recommendation: For fans of teens solving problems and getting into fairly dangerous situations in the process.

Rating: 7/10

Lexicon, by Max Barry

LexiconI first heard about this book on one of the many delightful episodes of the Book Riot podcast, and as soon as I heard the description I knew it was the book for me. People using words to control people and take over the world? SOLD.

It turns out that that’s not exactly what’s going on, but like many fantastic novels what exactly is going on is way too complicated to describe in one advert. Luckily I have all the space in the world! …Okay, okay, I’ll keep it (relatively) short.

So when the book opens, there’s this guy in the middle of having something horrible happen to him involving his eye. Thanks, book, that’s just exactly where I want to start things. Aughhhhh. This passes quickly, though, as the people doing the something horrible ascertain that this poor guy, Wil, is probably the guy they’re looking for and maybe they should get him out of this airport bathroom, and this airport in general, before some other people do some other unspecified horrible things to all of them. This does not work very well, and there is death and carnage everywhere, but Wil and his strange captor make it out to fight another day. Great first chapter!

The second chapter introduces us to a girl called Emily, making her money hustling people in three-card monte. A guy somehow gets Emily to screw up her hustle, leaving her miffed and her boss dude or whoever pissed, so when she sees this guy again she tries to get some answers out of him. He offers her the chance to make either a few thousand or lots of thousands of dollars if she just passes a little test, which involves answering some questions that seem mighty familiar from that first chapter.

As you might guess, she passes, and as you also might guess, these two characters’ stories trade off through the rest of the book and turn out to be, of course, part of one larger story. Wil’s story takes place in the present time of the story, with all the fighting and the running and the death and destruction, while Emily’s starts earlier and explains about the questions and the words and the general state of Emily that ends up leading to all the things that are happening to Wil.

The words conceit is fantastic — you find out that those strange questions are part of a personality test that helps especially persuasive people find the right words to convince you to do anything they want you to. You also find out that there is a single word that exists that allows the person who wields it to control absolutely anyone who hears or even just sees the word, utterly and completely, no questions asked. So that’s terrifying. Let’s not let that be real, guys.

And this single word is what all the shenanigans are about, and the end of the book gets all sorts of suspenseful about what is going to happen to this word and all the people anywhere near it and especially the people we’ve come to know and love (I love them, shut up) and then there is an ending that is at first glance puzzling and at second glance cheesy as all hell and at third glance still pretty cheesy but also kind of interesting and maybe a tiny bit profound and so I’ll allow it.

The best indication of how awesome I think this book is is that when I was reading through the first couple of chapters to remind myself of the events and what kinds of things I could safely spoil, I had to stop myself just reading the book a second time! This is definitely going on my “to buy in paperback and lend to all the people” list.

Recommendation: For readers who don’t mind being absolutely baffled by things and who like words and world takeover.

Rating: 10/10 (I wanted to subtract points for cheese, but couldn’t bring myself to. Suspicious?)

an RIP read