Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: Love Drugged by James Klise

Found via: I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell do I Read?

The basic premise of this book is fraught with the possibility of going down a baaaaaaaaaaad road. Gay kid starts taking a pill that will make him straight. Not hard to see how this could open up some really bad plot lines, or at least unfortunate implications - and I can't tell you how relieved I am that it does not go in that direction!

Love DruggedJamie Bates is 15 and if he knows anything about himself it's this: he's gay. But for Jamie, that's just about the worst fate he can imagine - he's sure that he'd be ostracized at school and maybe even kicked out of the house he shares with his parents and his grandparents. So as he enters high school, Jamie figures he needs to play it straight, if you will. He's going to keep a low profile, and just try to fit in. When one of the most beautiful girls in school starts paying attention to him, Jamie figures he might as well go for it - maybe he just needs to meet the right girl, right? And Celia Gamez is pretty much everyone's idea of the right girl - beautiful, funny, smart, and rich since her dad is a big name in the pharmaceutical development industry.

Jamie enjoys spending time with Celia, but isn't feeling much of a spark - until he discovers that her dad is developing pills that will eliminate homosexual desires in men. Desperate for some medical help, but unable to discuss this openly with his girlfriend's dad, Jamie starts stealing pills and taking them on the sly. As his relationship with Celia escalates, the drug starts having worrisome side-effects, and Jamie has to create an ever-more elaborate series of lies to explain his behavior, even as it's becoming obvious that whatever the drug is doing, Jamie isn't acting like the person he wants to be.

Klise is a debut author, but he handles this potentially fragile subject with sensitivity and deftness - explained perhaps in his author's note where he acknowledges that when he was 15 he just might have taken such a pill if it were available to him. I think anyone who has questioned their sexuality will recognize themselves in Jamie - the fear of being discovered by the wrong person, the internalized homophobia, and an overwhelming desire to just feel normal. Klise does an excellent job of bringing Jamie fully to life, flaws and all.

I'd say about 90% of this book is excellent - some of the plausibility is lost in the last chapter as the villain is revealed and the hijinks escalate to Saturday morning cartoon proportions. It's a weak note to leave the story on, but isn't insurmountable.

Love Drugged also presents a bit of a twist on the overworked-oblivious parents routine - instead of being high powered workaholics, his parents are working constantly to try to keep the family's heads above water. They moved in with Jamie's grandparents years ago, promising it as a temporary solution, that has slowly grown more permanent. It's not exactly a nuanced portrayal of how middle class families respond to economic crises, in part because most of the adults are two-dimensional and hardly have any screen time, but I appreciated a multi-generational household being presented as more-or-less normal.

I'm still accepting suggestions on which books I should take on my vacation! Check out yesterday's post and add your vote!

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