Book Review: That Dangerous Energy by Aya de León

In Aya de León's climate change thriller That Dangerous Energy, the personal and the political collide for one woman torn between her own survival and the survival of the planet. Check out Doreen Sheridan's review!

Morgan Faraday came to New York City from her small Pennsylvania town looking for glamor and, perhaps more importantly, a chance to make a name for herself in the art world. A talented fabric artist, she finds it difficult to land a job that will actually support her in her chosen field once she graduates from college, given the high-end garment industry’s fondness for low-paying entry level jobs and internships that poor people simply cannot live on. Even sleeping on her best friend Dashawna’s couch doesn’t help with her budget for living in a notoriously expensive city, not without family money to provide a foundation.

So when she meets Sebastian Reid, she thinks she’s finally found the answer to her prayers. Sebastian is rich and good-looking, but she knows she’ll have to carefully craft her image and behavior in order to get him to commit to her. Even several months into their relationship, when he flies her to St Louis to spend time with him while he’s at a conference, she has to keep up her facade:

“Are you hungry?” he would ask.

 

“Starving,” she would say. “I never get airport food.” Like it was beneath her, not unaffordable.

 

Everything about Morgan’s exterior screamed money. The designer shoes, jacket, and luggage. The stylish clothes. Fashion forward. Not like anything people had seen. Were they right off the runway? Who was she wearing? There were no designer labels because she had sewn the clothes herself. The outside of her wardrobe said couture, but the inside said homespun. Just like the outside of her body said glam, but the inside of her stomach said airline snacks.

Morgan’s plan to lock down Sebastian so she can spend the rest of her life working on her art instead of worrying about money hits an enormous snag when she realizes the truth of who he is and what he does for a living. The Reid Corporation is an energy company that is a notorious global polluter. Since Sebastian took over following his father’s death however, ReidCorp has begun pivoting to more environmentally-friendly solutions. Their critics accuse them of greenwashing, but Sebastian claims that it takes time to change the focus of a company of its size without also incurring tremendous layoffs.

Even as Morgan learns more about climate change, she’s hesitant to believe the worst about her boyfriend, despite the skepticism of the hot activist with whom she accidentally forms a connection. But when Morgan catches Sebastian in a huge lie to the media and watchdog groups about his relationship with a prominent government official, she’s torn as to what to do. It wouldn’t be enough for her to testify that he lied, as it would just be her word against his. She has to get proof, a nerve-wracking proposition for a woman who only wants the financial freedom to pursue her art:

But then she recalled one of the climate books she’d been reading. Any time in history when a nonviolent movement got 3.5 percent of the population active in demanding change, it had succeeded. They just needed to get the climate movement in the US to 3.5 percent. That seemed doable. But it also meant that her getting this evidence could be a huge tipping point. And now Sebastian was mad at her. Would she be able to pull this off? The pressure felt like a stone on her chest.

Morgan’s political awakening is only one of the many gripping aspects of this romantic thriller, as our heroine is torn between doing what’s right and what’s easy, and trying to be a force for good even as it threatens to destroy all her dreams. She’s a sympathetic character who must grapple not only with her part in the climate crisis, but also with her own life and background as a poor Black woman—albeit one who can pass as white—and artist in a capitalist society. It’s absorbing leftist reading that will strike a chord with anyone who’s existed in upwardly mobile urban poverty and with activists alike. And, as with any romance worth its salt, That Dangerous Energy also provides readers with hopes of a happily ever after, if good people work together for a just future for all.

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