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Pyrite Redux: Days of Future Past

Next up in our countdown to the Pyrite: a conversation on science fiction, dystopias, big ideas, rancid politics, and the girls who have just about had enough — girls who chart the world’s meltdown. Taking a look at a dirty and distressing near future, we’ve got A.S. King’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future paired with Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Love is the Drug.

On the one hand, Glory‘s ambitious science fiction infused novel of weirdness gave me all kinds of conflicted feelings. I loved the ambition of it — King wanted to talk about big ideas (fate, art, communication, friendship), and I loved the outlandish unexpectedness of the plot (bats, dystopias, feminism, slutshaming, STDs — I COULD GO ON AND ON HERE!). But I felt that the novel as a whole didn’t quite work. In the comments, we considered the scenarios that lead to Glory’s dystopia and wondered how likely a scenario really had to be, here, in this purposefully exaggerated dystopian world. Conversation also centered on the nuance — well, actually, the lack of nuance displayed by the dystopia. I totally recognize that, but must also confess that the dystopia sections were my favorite parts of the book…so more conflicted feelings for me!

Speaking of nuance, Karyn had lots of praise for Love is the Drug. Looked at as a science fiction novel that uses elements of a thriller to tell its story, Johnson explores her own big ideas (the human condition, loyalty, evil of government, xenophobia) — but to very different (and, I would argue, much better) effect. As we look at a world falling apart through Bird’s eyes, we experience the action and chaos and tension — and we also watch Bird struggle with questions of “racial identity and identity as a member of a group for whom appearance and status are so complexly interwoven.” We see the complicated, toxic interplay of being black and assimilated in our anti-black culture. Johnson’s narrative never shies from the political (terrorism, quarentine, martial law), but very carefully and intelligently balances the personal (identity, and the brutal struggle that can be dealing with your family).

So we’ve had our say (and had a lot to say), about both of these books. What do you think? I’m ready to talk in the comments!

About Sarah Couri

Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.


  1. Karyn Silverman says

    Perfect timing, since I just finished Glory last night! And… I am going to have to go in the not quite camp. I agree with the initial observation that the dystopia is slightly specific and a little improbable, but I wonder if it’s meant to be? After all, Nedrick the Sanctimonious; the way Glory so perfectly finds herself in opposition to Rick in the future (or his descendant?) when he’s clearly someone she disdains in the now — part of me wondered if maybe we were meant to wonder if maybe, just maybe, these weren’t transmissions from the future but actual hallucinations. Of course, why they are shared is a question — but then, Ellie doesn’t see the war until Glory does; Eliie sees hospitals while Glory sees camps. Glory tells us it’s all about perception (a thematic beat), which it is, but who perceives and what is perceived may be less comprehensible than Glory’s simple I’m right-she’s wrong dichotomy. Read this way, I actually appreciate the book more — the ending was such a swift move to resolve and a happy ending — yes, ok, war, Sniper, explosions, but for purposeless, untethered Glory, is there any future more beguiling than one in which she matters HUGELY? One in which her father and mother’s ideas about feminism propel her purpose, making her future a seamless flow from their past? And it has true love too? The shift from lost to found hapens very fast — it all comes to a head in just a few chapters (meeting Peter, the surprise party), and as soon as it does, Glory is ok, she’s found, she’s moving forward.
    I still think the backstory plot with the parents was strange and convoluted and the friendship with Ellie seemed a little hard to believe. Maybe it’s just that Jasmine Blue is a terrible stereotype. So I don’t think I’m revising this upward into serious shortlist territory, but I am all for discussing it more if someone want to push me on that.

    As for Love Is the Drug, I’m still seeing hearts when I look at that one. It’s all the things I already talked about at length when I first reviewed it, yes, and also the way it’s smart. I like being challenged, and I felt like this kept me on my toes, understanding the complexities of the near future, trying with Bird to untangle the plot. I do still wonder about those passages where the authorial and narrative voice shifts to directly addressing Bird. What are they for, how do they advance the themes or story, do they succeed. I know there are a few other lovers of this one and I’d love to hear how those passages in particular struck you all.

    • Tara Kehoe says

      In response to “those passages where the authorial and narrative voice shifts to directly addressing Bird” in Love is the Drug. I felt the voice was elevating Bird’s story to legend status. The story takes place in the near future, and time is manipulated (quite successfully in my opinion) by Johnson so I accepted this voice as maybe coming from the future or some other omniscient presence without reservation. It gave me another perspective of the narrative in sort of a Tale of Despereaux (“come closer dear reader…”) way. Love is the Drug was pure genius.

      On another note, Glory O’Brien: in some ways I don’t understand why l did not love it. I adore A.S. King. I am a feminist. I feel a lot of what was explored was important. But something about the book never came together for me to really be “in” it. I never really cared much for any characters. The plot didn’t really flow much. I don’t know. I’m sorry I didn’t like it. The “transmissions” segments could just be put together into a short story or something and lead to interesting discussions.

  2. Neither.

    I am in the middle of Love is the Drug right now and can’t believe the whole situation. Nothing works or fits. Transitions, in the name of drugs and their chemical compounds, don’t help and even distract. The evolution of Bird as a character is good but the adults all focused on one school and all the drama focused on Emily Bird are just plain confounding. when I read your reviews I wonder if I got another book inserted between my cover than the one you had. It just doesn’t work for me and my readers agree.

    After I finished Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future I was really high on the book for, hm, about a week. Then the book faded in my memory to the point I could barely even remember what it was that I thought the book did well. If someone saw what Glory says she saw, that person would not be able to go to the mall, believe me. They would be in the psych ward of the hospital! I was lulled into loving the book originally because King’s prose are so strong. Face it, that gal can write. Otherwise, I don’t think the book is worthy. Sorry.

  3. Oh, one more point about Glory O’Brien. My readers disagree with me. Teen readers love this book even to the point of clutching the book to their chest when they return it. I know the Printz Award is not a popularity test, but shouldn’t teen’s willingness to read a book count for something?

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