Guest Review: Love Drugged
This review was written by Isaiah Vianese. Isaiah is a poet and college writing instructor in New York. You can read his blog and some of his poetry here.
Many books and films about gay teenagers get a tough rap these days, often dismissed as “mere” coming out stories. This dismissal is disheartening, and of course assumes that coming-out has somehow gotten easy. Perhaps these are the critics James Klise takes on with his first novel, Love Drugged, about a boy who takes an experimental pill to “cure” his homosexuality.
Most coming-out narratives structure themselves as stories of transformation that revolve around a central catalyst—most often love for a person of the same gender. Klise turns this model on its head by making Jamie’s love interest the most beautiful girl in school, Celia. Jamie already knows he is gay, and openly admits his crushes on other boys to the reader. However, rather than pursuing any of these more likely love interests, he throws himself whole-heartedly into Celia’s arms, attempting to pass as straight as well as he can.
To make matters more complicated, he starts taking an experimental drug being developed by Celia’s father that will “kill” homosexual desire—a drug that he steals clumsily throughout the story. Of course, this becomes pretty absurd and complicated stuff—a story about unrequited love (Celia buys into Jamie’s pseudo-straightness) framed within a psychological thriller. Sometimes the absurdity works against the novel; it is easy to empathize with Jamie, but it takes a strong suspension of disbelief to feel compelled by his journey.
However what rings most true about the story—and to good effect—is that Klise helps us revisit the feelings many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning teens experience: the desire to not be different, to just fit in, and to be liked. Jamie goes to great lengths to run away from his identity and blend in with the heteronormative expectations at his high school; this charade causes him greater and greater pain. Love Drugged is a good pick for readers looking for a story that combines suspense with an important message about self-acceptance.