Natasha Randall’s debut novel, Love Orange, tackles a magnitude of issues surrounding modern day life as an American.
Jenny and Hank live with their two sons Jesse and Luke. Hank is technology obsessed. He has turned their house into a ‘smart home’ which is listening into their every conversation and monitoring their every move. The house is able to order the family groceries by them just saying ‘house, order milk’. This smart home, which Hank so much adores, is much less liked by the rest of his household. Hank is very much infatuated with protecting his family from things like the dark web and his sons from porn on the internet. The boys don’t enjoy their lack of privacy and Jenny just hates the smart house. Everything in their world seems to rotate around technology, even the priest at their church has turned to the congregation texting their anonymous sins to the God Phone so that people don’t actually have to speak to one another and have proper conversations. This was a concept I found rather amusing.
Jenny is a little bit fed up with her life; she is unfulfilled by the way her life has turned out and is annoyed at the existence of her smart home. As a way to take her mind off her reality, she starts writing letters to prison inmates which is her little secret from her family. Letters to and from her prison pen pal, John, become frequent and Jenny notices that John’s letters are always sealed with a sweet-smelling orange substance. Jenny couldn’t help but try the substance, and noticed that it numbed some of her pain. Jenny searches high and low for whatever this orange substance could be, but is unsuccessful. She is also in contact with John’s husband, Shona, who is also locked up but coming close to the end of her time in prison. At first Shona wants nothing to do with Jenny through fear that her time in prison might get increased, but once she’s released the two start to get along. It transpires that this sweet-smelling orange substance is an opiate drug called Suboxone, which is used to treat chronic pain conditions (and is just generally pretty good at numbing people).
All in all I thought this book was an interesting snippet of modern day family life and it shows just how bleak and dissatisfying life can be, especially for Jenny. Hank and Jenny were pretty dead-set on gender stereotype roles and I did honestly feel a bit for Jenny.. She must be so bored in her life. My main issue with the book was that it’s written in quite a smart way in which the author didn’t draw up any opinions of the characters, this meant that I really struggled to engage with any of them.
I did like that the opioid crisis was a topic brought up though as it is something I can massively resonate with. As a sufferer of chronic pain, I basically depend on pain relief in order to have some quality to my life. I spent quite a while on various opioids in the last few years, and I know all too well how much they can destroy people’s lives. It is so easy to become addicted, and for me, they numbed everything except the pain I am in. As someone from the UK, opioid drugs can only be prescribed by GPs, but I remember so well when I was in Mexico last year, and they had opioid drugs for sale in gift shops.
Overall, I think that Love Orange brought up many important topics which are quite often overshadowed by other things in today’s life. It brings up the American opioid crisis and drug abuse and addiction, but also things like gender stereotypes and toxic masculinity and the book as a whole was something completely different to anything I’ve ever read. I found the book a little bit hard to follow along with at times, I don’t know if this was a problem with me, or with the book itself, but I felt like it was jumping back and forth between points a lot and I kept feeling a little bit lost as to where we were and what was going on.
Thank you to Natasha Randall and NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I look forward to seeing what Natasha will bring out next!