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Love Is the Drug

4/5. A student at a near-future Washington D.C. prep school wakes up after a party with no memory of what happened to her, and with the world in the grip of a pandemic flu virus.

This, on the other hand, is wonderful, and deserves to be hyped a lot more. It's not really science fiction, more near-future sociopolitical thriller with some speculative elements. But the flu is not really the point, and the thriller plot is so not the point (if you haven't figured that out by a quarter of the way through, this may be the first book you've ever read). No, the point is the heroine, who is struggling with competing models of how to be black in America, and working through the use and abuse of power on her and by her, and falling in love with a drug dealer.

This is the rich, complex book that her Summer Prince fell short of, in my mind. Which is partly her – she got a little less overdramatic, a little more controlled. And partly about how I'm getting really sick of specfic books about race that have to take the world at several steps remove from ours to be about race. This book really doesn't do that; it's not about race "through the lens of" or about race "reimagined." It's about this black girl and her black family and her friends and boyfriends and what they do to survive. Fuckin' applause.
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The Summer PrinceThe Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This sounds overbaked, and it kinda is, but you've gotta go with it. Brazil, centuries after the apocalypse, a young man is elected summer king. He will reign for a year, rockstar and figurehead, and then he will select the new queen as he dies. Our teenage girl heroine achieves various pitches of quivering emotion about all of this.

Okay, the thing is, this is actually a really good book. Our heroine fancies herself an artist – excuse me, Artist – and the book is about her struggle with her political protest art, and what it means and what it doesn't, and how real she's willing to make it. And the book is wry but kind about her youth and her, um. Well. Put it this way: if this girl had access to Tumblr, she'd max out the posting limit every day reblogging pictures of graffiti with hundreds of tags explaining her FEELS. She has a lot of growing up to do, and the book rides that well.

It also has this crisp way of de-centering itself, either by replacing the cardboard star-crossed teenage romance I was expecting with a functional bit of queer polyamory (no really). Or by letting the heroine talk our ear off about her city's class structure for a hundred pages before hugely complicating the entire thing by explicating the racial politics she doesn't understand. The whole book is just that little bit slippery, that extra turn of complexity ready to unfold.

And yet. As much as I liked this in theory . . . as much as it plays with traditional growing up narratives in a story about one kid who will never get the chance to grow up . . . It's still very, very young. This book takes Art so seriously, it ensured in several instances that I couldn't take it seriously at all. These characters use their bodies as canvas, their talents, and, in at least two cases, their deaths. And even as the book is pushing at that, it's also so fucking invested in *gestures* the myth of the protest artist in this particularly . . . Tumblr way. Like it can't really commit to complicating the narratives when it's just so overcome by the romance of it all, OMG. So . . . young.

Still. This has lovely moments. And complexity to spare. And a lot of you will really like it.

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