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Book Review: Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

When I was a Junior in high school, I had a history teacher who wanted to make sure that we understood current events and the world that we lived in. So every Friday, we had a current events type quiz bowl. There was a boy in my class named Luke and him and I were super competitive. So I begged my parents for a subscription to both Time and Newsweek and I read. I learned about the tumult in the Middle East, I learned who current world leaders were, and I learned about the way things like gas, terrorism, and boundary disputes can effect the world we live in. My history teacher would love this book.

Emily Bird is the daughter of scientist parents who are involved in work that Bird can’t really understand. All she knows is that her parents, particularly her mom, put tremendous pressure on her to be a successful microversion of them, and she’s not really sure that is what she wants. And then one day the future doesn’t matter because it looks like there may not be one.

A flu pandemic is starting to spread and the world as we know it is changing – and is at war.

One night Bird is at a party when she meets a man and asks about an organization that no one is supposed to know exists. In this moment, everything about her life changes. She wakes up in the hospital with no memory of what happened after that conversation. All she knows is now this man named Roosevelt won’t leave her alone because they – whoever they are – are afraid that she may know something she isn’t supposed to.

Her only other fuzzy memory of the night is an image of her friend Coffee trying to run after her. Now, Coffee is being charged with drugging her, but Bird is pretty sure he wouldn’t do that. Not that he couldn’t, because he is both an expert at chemistry and a casual dealer on the side, just that he wouldn’t.

As Bird and Coffee begin to explore what happened to her that night and what it is they are afraid she may know, the two of them begin to draw closer together. Bird also begins the slow and often painful task of figuring out who she really wants to be and standing up for herself. She loses old friends while she makes new ones, all with the backdrop of war, quarantine, and pandemics.

Love is the Drug is a smart, complex, sophisticated dystopian that has so many layers of fascinating discussion. There is science and politics viewed between the pages of this imaginary but all too possible pandemic. At the same time, the students often find themselves contemplating issues of class, racism and privilege amongst themselves. For example, one of Bird’s new friends is a scholarship student – and an out GLBTQ one at that – and she comments frequently about the issues she faces as both someone who is out and as someone not in the same economic bracket as her classmates.

And in the midst of all of this, we see Bird literally growing her wings so she can fly to her personal freedom as she embraces who she is and who she wants to be. She begins to assert herself, to question the world she lives in, to question her parents . . . She begins to open her eyes and allow herself to truly see.

Then there is Coffee. The dude is incredibly smart and very in love with Bird, but he does not always make the best decisions. See, for example, the fact that he is a dealer. He is a great example of a flawed person that you just really, really love.

This was a hard start for me, it took me a while to get into the rhythm of the storytelling style and to wrap by head around some of the political background. But once I got in sync with the story, I couldn’t put it down. I enjoyed the relationships happening in the foreground, including the various family and friends we meet, while trying to figure out the what Bird might know and what it meant to the current war and pandemic. And then in the background there is that pulse pumping countdown as one by one the war comes closer, more and more people get sick and die, and the threats against Bird become more pressing.

There are things that happen inside this book that I really, really want to talk about and what they mean for the real world. To say that this book is discussable is an understatement.

Like I said, it is complex, sophisticated, and intelligent. It is also a compelling dystopian thriller that keeps you turning the pages to discover its secrets. I highly recommend it.

Coming in September from Arthur A. Levine Books. ISBN: 978-0-545-41781-5. I picked up an ARC of this book at ALA, mainly because it has the biohazard symbol on the cover and you know I love a good epidemic/pandemic.

Publisher’s Description:

From 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

Cybils Mini Reviews: Plague Edition featuring Reboot by Amy Tintera and A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer

The month of December finds me busily trying to read over 200 YA Speculative Fiction books for the 2013 Cybils (which are awesome).  I had read a lot of the nominated books, but not all.  So now I am happily playing catch up.  Today I present mini reviews on two books that have a plague theme: A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer and Reboot by Amy Tintera.  As you know, I love a good epidemic: see Epidemics list 1 and list 2.

First up: Reboot by Amy Tintera
Tagline: 5 years ago, I died. 178 minutes later, I woke up.

First of all, this is technically a zombie novel.  Why did you not tell me this people?  You know I love a good zombie novel.  A plague causes people to die and then they wake up later “different”.  Not traditional zombie, because they can talk and think, but with varying degrees of emotion.  The longer you are dead, the less emotion you seem to have.  Reboots are a threat to the population, so they are rounded up by the government (it’s always the government) where they are “employed” as soldiers sent out to track down other reboots and criminals.  So you have your dystopian element happening here.

Wren 178 is so named because it took her 178 minutes to reboot after death.  She is considered a machine, the go to reboot for dangerous assignments.  Lower numbers have more emotions, and 178 is the highest number there is in the reboot dorm.  But soon everything she thought she knew about herself, about the reboots, and about the world in which she lives is tested when she meets and agrees to train Callum 22 and she is given a secret assignment that goes terribly wrong.

I liked and highly recommend this book.  I thought it was an interesting twist on the zombie novel and can be used as a springboard discussion starter on human rights, understanding those that are different from us, and the role of government in society.   This book can really spark a lot of science and ethics discussions.  There is a lot of good stuff in there in terms of character arcs and emotional growth, action for those wanting a little action, and a little romance for those who want that as well.  Pair this with Blackout by Robison Wells and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for a great discussion about government.

Second up: A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer
Tagline: Will you be a survivor or a statistic?

On the 56th day of the Blustar Pandemic, Nadia’s mother dies and her and her younger brother, Rabbit, set out to cross the country on their own to find their grandfather and uncle as instructed in a letter.   What ensues is basically the road trip from hell: Nadia is barely 16 and can’t technically drive and she is suddenly tasked with getting her little brother safely through the elements in a barren world populated by the few that survive, and they are often less than helpful.  At several intervals they meet various groups that try to rob them, imprison them, and more.  And they save a few people along the way.

There really isn’t anything new or cutting edge here, but A Matter of Days is a good survival story for those interested in that genre (raises hand).  I really liked the relationship between Nadia and Rabbit and they way they both grew under the very real pressures they now faced, and how they sometimes fell apart.  I also liked that they picked up a teenage boy, Zach, and there was no dreamy staring into his eyes or insta-love because the needs of immediate survival and that initial distrust was there.  Thank you Amber Kizer for that.

The Mr. also picked up and read this book and he liked it.  In particular, he liked the sparse storytelling style which stressed the urgency of their situation (and I agree) and he just liked the voice of the characters.  It’s very readable, great I think for reluctant readers, and I think teens will come away from it satisfied.

I love those claustrophobic feeling books where there are only a few characters on the page and you just have to be fully invested in their story.  See also: Ashfall by Mike Mullin, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, and In Honor by Jessi Kirby.

Epidemics, take II

We were talking about Epidemics on the Yalsa-bk listserv and some people reminded me of some great titles that I didn’t mention on Tuesday:

The Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
The Stand by Stephen King
The Kill Order by James Dashner
Pandemia by Jonathon Rand
Earth Abides by George Stewart
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
The Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry
The Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts
The Cobra Event by Richard Preston

Also, in her book Reality Rules, Besty Fraser has a chapter on “Natural Disasters and Disease Epidemics” that includes titles like Jim Murphy’s An American Plague and Susan Bartoletti’s Black Potatoes.  And don’t forget the nonfiction title Invisible Microbe by Jim Murphy.

And so I spent this morning avoiding everything I am supposed to be doing and made an RA poster to do a display.  You can download the poster at https://www.box.com/s/qkwn20dxkut0t90zacs7

True Confessions of a Reluctant Historical Fiction Reader That is Obsessed with Epidemics: Top 10 Books about Epidemics

“Bring out your dead.” – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

When I was in the 8th grade, my history teacher was oh so kind as to send a note home to my parents letting them know I was failing history.  As you can imagine, that did not go over well.  And thus began my hate affair with history.  I have a hard time remembering facts, I am more of a concept girl.  Ask me to write an essay and I can knock your socks off, but ask me to remember a date and we suddenly have an issue.  You know those people that can walk around quoting facts and reciting lines from their favorite movies and TV shows? Yeah, that’s not me.  And because I always struggled with history, that might explain why I struggle with historical fiction.  I am not it’s number one fan.  But I read it.  Occasionally.  I mean, you know, once in a blue moon.

But, I am a huge fan of epidemics.  I wouldn’t want to live in one, but like zombie fiction, they make us question who we are and what we will do to survive.  In fact, of all the historical fiction books that I have ever read, hands down my favorite is Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. Here we have a female character, 14-year-old Mattie Cook, fighting to survive an outbreak of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia.  Fever is a great read because it gives you those little historical facts, but with plenty of action and adventure and a fairly kick butt heroine, especially for the time period.  Plus, people die from the fever.  Yes, it is sad and no, I have no idea what my fascination with epidemics is (don’t judge).  I can tell you that The Mr. is sick of watching the movie Contagion, so the other night I mixed it up a bit and kicked it old school and watched Outbreak (based on the book by Robin Cook of course).

“I’m not dead yet.”
“Well, he will be soon, he’s very ill.”
“I’m getting better.”
“No you’re not, you’ll be stone dead in a moment.” – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

So, now you know, Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson is my favorite Historical Fiction book for teens.  And, here are some other great books that deal with epidemics, only a few of which are historical fiction as many of them are science fiction – it turns out that plagues are a great way to make both vampires and zombies (you know I LOVE the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry) and bring about the end of the world.  And one of them is even nonfiction.

“He’s only mostly dead.” – The Princess Bride

Deadly by Julie Chibbaro
Deadly is a look at the typhoid outbreak in New York and the lady known to many as “Typhoid Mary”.  Not only a look at science, but an interesting look at the expectations of women in a different time and a young girl named Prudence who wants to be a scientist in a time when women were encouraged to pursue different types of things.
Plague by Jean Ure
Three teens return from a camping trip in the wilderness to find that London has been ravaged by a plague,  Haunting, isolating and chilling, this is one of the earlier plague books.  There is always a sequel called After the Plague.
Code Orange by Caroline B.Cooney
When Mitty Blake is doing a bio project he finds an envelope that contains two scabs.  Suddenly, his project has become a matter of life and death.
The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe
Set on an island where the only way in and out is by boat, The Way We Fall is a chilling tale of what happens when an outbreak of illness hits that island and it is abandoned and quarantined by the outside world.  This is the first book in a trilogy and a tense, slowly building creeper.  You’ll wash your hands a lot and look twice at every person you hear cough.
The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
Two thirds of the population is gone, struck down by an outbreak of influenza.  Stephen makes his way to a group of survivors at Settler’s Landing, but a prank gone bad causes a battle that will once again change everything he knows.  This book will make you afraid of flu season.
Quarantine is a high octane story full of violence that will remind you of The Lord of the Flies, but it is set in a high school where all the teens are trapped because they have come in contact with a disease that they carry but kills all the adults.  You can read our review from earlier.  You and your teens will waiting for book two.  It should also be noted that the movie rights to Quarantine have already been sold.
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
In the future, humans are kept by the vampires as cattle.  Allie does all that she can to try and survive and avoid becoming one of “them”.  Can she help find a cure for the disease that turned humans into the rabids, who kill human and vampires alike?  Put this in the hands of your teen vampire fiction readers, it has some interesting twists.
Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
Peeps is hands down one of my favorite vampire books because it is a very interesting concept.  Vampirism is created by a biological agent, a parasite, and every chapter of the fiction book is accompanied by a chapter that discusses interesting facts about parasites and biology.
Epitaph Road by David Patneaude
In the year 2097, 97 percent of the male population has been wiped out by a plague.  This is a new world in which women rule and men are dominated, an interesting role reversal from some of the historical time periods mentioned above and some fodder for good discussion.
The End is a fun, quick read that looks at the depiction of the end of the world in a variety of different books, TV shows and movies.  It is one of many great Zest Books titles that will fly off your shelves.  These books are quick reads, great for pop culture junkies and reluctant readers.  It is subtitled 50 Apocalyptic Visions from Pop Culture That You Should Know About . . . before it’s too late. 
Be sure to check out my Top 10 Apocalypse Survival Tips I Learned from YA Lit to help prepare yourself for the outbreak, if that should be what bring about the apocalypse.  Also, share your favorite survival tips or epidemic reads in the comments.  I’m always looking for more.
Do you think “the cheese touch” counts as a plague?  Maybe it does for your MG Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans.

Epidemics, Take II