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Book Review: Love is the Drug

I thoroughly enjoyed The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson and have been eagerly anticipating her latest book, Love is the Drug. I am delighted to say, it did not disappoint!

lovedrug

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.

Sigh. Ignore the blurb. Here’s what you need to know: Johnson has once again crafted an intelligent YA novel that swirls a toe in sci-fi waters while the other foot remains firmly planted in the realm of conspiracy theory thriller. This hasn’t got a lot of love from YA reviewers and I think I know why. While the characters are teenagers and there is a lot of teenage stuff happening on the pages, this book doesn’t pander to its audience and the plot is a slow-burn more common to adult reads than a frenetic rush from one moment of life-threatening excitement to another as in many YA novels. That’s not to say this book isn’t exciting. It is, but the realistic timeline means the reader needs patience.

While there is the deadly flu virus thing going on in this story, that almost becomes backdrop to what is truly a coming of age story and a wonderfully real and raw romance between two teenagers who don’t quite fit in at their elite prep school. For me, it’s this part of the story that is truly awesome, original, and page turning. At some point I realized I couldn’t care less if the flu was an act of bioterrorism or not, so long as the protagonists could find a way to sort out their lives and be together despite the odds stacked against them.

While the blurb makes this book seem like a plot-driven thriller, it’s not. This novel is all about the characters and they’re wonderful. Emily Bird is Black. Yes, Black with a capital B as written and emphasized in the story. This book addresses issues of race without the story becoming about race or racism and that’s fantastic. This novel really opened my eyes to what life is like for a black teenage girl in the upper echelons of American society. I had no idea, which is why books like Love is the Drug are so important. Emily Bird also has a diverse group of friends at her preppy school. Some black, some white, some Latino/a, some mixed, some international, some straight, some gay. If you’re looking for a diverse read, this book has diversity in spades! The other lead character in this book – Coffee – is a white Brazilian diplomat’s kid and is a middle finger, not only to the establishment in the novel, but to several YA tropes, which demand hunky heroics from the love interest. Coffee is smart and uses his brain rather than brawn to get things done.

My favourite part of this novel was the unlikely romance between Bird and Coffee. They are so different from such different backgrounds with such different families and family values and yet somehow they manage to see and bring out the best in each other. It was an absolute pleasure reading about a young couple who challenged each other to be better people, to think for themselves and make smart choices – if not always the right ones – these are teens of course and they’re going to mess up. Given how many near-abusive relationships are touted as the epitome of romance (I’m looking at you Twilight and Hush,Hush) it was a wonderful surprise to see the girl choose to be with the nice guy who treated her as an equal on all fronts. It’s this sort of positive reinforcement I’d like to see in more teen reads.

If I have anything to gripe about with the story, it’s that once again the parents are reduced to absentee monsters. Since the story is told from Bird’s perspective perhaps they aren’t as bad as she perceives them to be, but I still found the parental roles in this book slipping into the YA cliches of absent and/or awful. Granted, there are probably parents like this in the world, but everything else felt so fresh in this novel that this one aspect stood out as being a little stale.

The writing in this novel, as with The Summer Prince, is excellent, although there were a few passages I thought might’ve been a little over done. There were also one or two stylistic POV switches I wasn’t convinced were necessary, but these minor blips in no way reduced my enjoyment of the book as a whole. 5 glorious ink splats for this intelligent, thought-provoking, authentic, and diverse YA novel.

5 inksplats

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Posted by on May 19, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Predestination

Time travel – my least favourite science fiction trope, and yet I seem to find myself watching films like Looper, Source Code, The Butterfly Effect etc. Of all the films featuring time travel, the only one I really enjoyed was Donnie Darko. That said, Predestination blew my mind for all the wrong reasons.

*SPOILERS AHEAD – YOU’VE BEEN WARNED

predestination

The life of a time-traveling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.

Firstly, the temporal agent thing has been done. Looper – the movie to which many reviewers compare Predestination – already did this, and countless novels have used the same word, or slight variations thereof, to describe the shady characters governed by an even shadier organisation that sends people flitting through time to alter or influence events, which they inevitably end up messing up or unable to alter which the movie then presents as a mind-blowing twist. *yawn* The other thing almost every time travel film gets horribly wrong is the science. While real-world physics don’t technically have to apply considering time travel is fictional – and at best, a quantum theory – I’d like to think that basic logic still applies, and yet screen writers think they can create a logic loophole by getting philosophical and meta and spouting quantum mysticism. I’m all for quantum mysticism, but not when it’s used as justification for bad science.

So in Predestination – as if the title wasn’t clue enough – we have this guy who is supposedly the product of a predestination paradox who must go back in time to stop a criminal (yawn again) from killing lots of people only to discover 97 minutes later than he can’t actually change the course of his life because ‘predestination!’ Really?? This film didn’t even attempt to provide some more profound explanation or reasoning behind what was going on. Perhaps I’ve just seen too many of these sorts of films that the ‘twist’ seemed more like an excuse than a revelation.

Dodgy science aside, the film largely describes the life and transformation of a transgender or intersex character – I say ‘or’ here because the person never actually identifies themselves as either. This is where the film will likely be lauded for being progressive and LGBT friendly and diverse, but the story contained within is pretty damn horrific!

A child identified as female at birth is raised a girl while never truly fitting in and displaying certain tomboyish traits – this is set in the 1940-70s after all so a girl having a brain is seen as tomboyish. At some point, Jane is examined and the doctors discover she is intersex. They keep this information from her. In fact, they blatantly lie to her!

Later, Jane falls pregnant and doctors perform a C-section. When Jane wakes up the new doctor reveals to her that she was, in fact, internally both male and female and that during the C-section they had to perform a full hysterectomy. And, as if that isn’t traumatic enough, the good doctor took it upon himself to start the process of sex reassignment, because Jane – now devoid of uterus – can clearly no longer be considered a woman. Jane is then forced to endure several more surgeries to finish what was started and become a man although she has never identified as a man nor ever identified as anything other than a straight cis female – other than being physically strong and intelligent (traits not common in woman obviously). This woman is entirely stripped of agency and mutilated by medical professionals without her consent! The biggest crime in this film isn’t the bombings they’re trying to stop, but this unwanted sex reassignment that Jane neither wants nor agrees to. I almost stopped watching the film, but morbid fascination kept me going, hoping they would somehow redeem the storyline.

Nope.

It only gets worse. Language like ‘freak’ is used to describe the intersex person before and after surgery and as the film progresses it is shown more and more that Jane – now John – has never had any form of agency and is simply being manipulated by said shady temporal organisation for what purpose I have no freaking idea because the film basically undoes itself in the last 2 minutes. The film is all about Jane giving her life purpose and yet the film’s purpose flies right out the window in the final scene. Sigh. I’m not even surprised. I figured out the twist – twists, there were supposed to be a few – a mile away and kept hoping the film would do something other than what I expected. More sighs.

The biggest problem I have with this film is that they used an intersex person without any consideration for gender identity or sexuality to create the predestination paradox. Jane, a straight woman who believes she is cisgender, falls in love with a man and becomes pregnant. After the birth, Jane is forced to become John, who is then manipulated into going back in time to meet Jane (an earlier iteration of themselves). Jane, forced into becoming John, is now a straight guy who falls in love with his earlier female self and even gets her pregnant. My mind boggled – not with all the time travel nonsense – but with the flippant treatment of sexual identity. It gets worse.

The baby Jane and John conceive is then snatched and taken back in time to 1945 where said baby grows up to be Jane… welcome to the predestination paradox causal loop thingie the writers think is so clever but is so messed up I can’t even! This could not possibly have worked unless person A could become person B and then impregnate themselves, so let’s just use an intersex person! What could’ve been a really cool and progressive exploration of gender identity and sexuality against a sci-fi backdrop – rarely done on the silver screen – instead turned into an absolute farce that reiterates sexist and genderist ideaology.

The rest of the movie and the resolution of the bombing subplot isn’t even worth mentioning because it honestly does little for the story or characters other than to reiterate the predestination theme ad nauseam.

I think Sarah Snook did a pretty good job of acting the parts of Jane and John and breathing life into an abused character, but that’s about all I liked about this movie. Can I give a film no splats? I don’t want to give this movie any. Nope, not even half of one. I was appalled and disappointed by this film. No stars for Predestination.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Spotlight: Obscura Burning by Suzanne van Rooyen (YA / LGBT)

Hey everyone, I’m back with another Spotlight post, this time focusing on a title from a South African author, Suzanne van Rooyen. 🙂

suzanne obscura

The Author

Suzanne is a tattooed story-teller and peanut-butter addict from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When not writing you can find her teaching dance and music to middle-schoolers or playing in the snow with her shiba inu.

Suzanne is represented by Jordy Albert of the Booker Albert Agency.
Suzanne is also Publicity Manager for Entranced Publishing.

Here’s the blurb:

Kyle Wolfe’s world is about to crash and burn. Just weeks away from graduation, a fire kills Kyle’s two best friends and leaves him permanently scarred. A fire that Kyle accidentally set the night he cheated on his boyfriend Danny with their female friend, Shira. That same day, a strange new planet, Obscura, appears in the sky. And suddenly Kyle’s friends aren’t all that dead anymore. Each time Kyle goes to sleep, he awakens to two different realities. In one, his boyfriend Danny is still alive, but Shira is dead. In the other, it’s Shira who’s alive…and now they’re friends with benefits.

Shifting between realities is slowly killing him, and he’s not the only one dying. The world is dying with him. He’s pretty sure Obscura has something to do with it, but with his parents’ marriage imploding and realities shifting each time he closes his eyes, Kyle has problems enough without being the one in charge of saving the world…

And here’s the Book Trailer:

And for your reading pleasure, an excerpt from the novel. 🙂

Enjoy!

***

1.

Cornflakes; scraps of yellow cardboard polluting perfectly good milk. I wash them down with orange juice, dribbling a little from the corner of my mouth where my lips no longer form a smooth crease. From his cross fixed to the kitchen wall, an emaciated Jesus glares at me, making the cardboard cereal even more difficult to swallow.

I drag the paper over and skim the headlines: Obscura panic despite government reassurances that the world probably won’t end. Department stores got ransacked in Albuquerque amid fears of price gouging. People are really starting to freak out. There’s a snippet on page two about the situation in Iraq, how a bunch of American soldiers are demanding flights home to see family before Armageddon. A picture of the Eiffel Tower lit up with candles and strewn with flowers; a phallic offering to whichever god tossed Obscura into the sky. There’s a whole segment on what Obscura might be doing to the weather. Meteorologists predict the worst hurricane season in centuries, increased seismic activity resulting in more tsunamis and volcanoes. The world might not end, but that doesn’t mean humans won’t get wiped out anyway.

“What are you doing today, son?” Dad asks around the edges of the sports section. He should be scouring the classifieds for a job, not that there’d be much point if the world ends.

“The usual.” There isn’t a hell of a lot to do in Coyote’s Luck. Last couple of summers, Danny and I passed the days out by the dam near the reservation with Shira, or worked odd jobs around town, sometimes even helping out at the ranches farther away. This year we’d both been set for working at Black Paw, an eatery sporting kitsch Indian decor and a Mexican menu. Then the fire happened.

“Didn’t you have a job lined up?” Dad folds the paper and looks at me. His gaze doesn’t linger too long on my face before he’s studying his checkered napkin. Mom usually mediates conversations like this one, but she worked the night shift and is still passed out upstairs.

“You really think they’re going to want me serving kids their tortillas?”

“Why not?” Dad still doesn’t look up.

“You can’t even look at me, Dad. How the hell do you think some kids are going to order food and not end up puking on the table when they see my face?” I smash my bowl in the sink and stomp out of the kitchen, slamming the screen door behind me. Dad calls after me, but I ignore him. Nothing he can say will change my scars.

2.

Scrabbling under my bed, I retrieve an A3 drawing book and bag of colored pens. The first few pages are half-finished comics, a story yet unfinished waiting for my imagination. Then there’s a multicolored map scrawled across several pages, denoting my life: pages filled with boxes, each dated and timed, connected by lines as I try to make sense of what’s happening to me.

With a ruler and green pen, I draw a new box, jotting down the details since waking up at Shira’s.

I glance at my watch just to be sure. Tuesday, 21:47, June 26.

The map is a spaghetti mess of interweaving lines and text boxes. I’m not sure when my life got so complicated. Maybe when I was bandaged in the hospital, delirious in an opiate-induced haze, or maybe in those first few days after Danny’s spinal fusion, days I spent pacing the halls waiting to find out if he’d ever walk again.

My starting point is marked in red. April 6. The night of the fire.

I stash the book under my bed and strip naked. The stink of sex clings to my skin. Girls smell different, ripe and cloying. It’s a smell that gets everywhere. Even my hair reeks of girl-musk.

The tiles are cool against my back as I stand beneath a jet of cold water. Although my burns have healed, the scars are still sensitive. If the water is warmer than tepid it feels like I’m on fire all over again.

Running a hand over my mangled flesh, it’s as if I’m feeling the strange surface of some weird planet. Caressing Obscura perhaps. Her cratered and shale-smeared crust probably looks a lot like my skin. At first it was terrifying, the bubbles and swaths of too smooth flesh, the pink knots and swollen ridges slithering down my belly. Now it’s fascinating, all the warped shapes and odd textures. Surreal really, like it’s not my body that got deep-fried.

Not sure what the big deal is about me not being able to have kids. My left ball only looks a little more wrinkled than before, less hairy and more like a prune. The plumbing works just fine. Sex doesn’t feel the same, but then with a girl, how could it?

***

To order copies of Obscura Burning, check out the following links: Amazon US, Barnes and Noble, OmniLit, The Book Depository. If you’re a member of Goodreads, make sure to add the title at this link.

Check out Suzanne’s website here, and you can also connect with her on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook

There we go – another interesting title to add to your shelf! 🙂 And thanks to Suzanne for offering the excerpt of her novel. 🙂

Until Friday,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2014 in Excerpt, Spotlight

 

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