We'll start with the things that I liked. The best part was Rush's writing style. Her writing is neither overly ornate nor laughably simple. I thought it worked with the story and the intelligence/education level of the heroine, Anna, from whose perspective we see. The only downside, which I'll extrapolate on later, was the tendency towards hackneyed phrases when it came to romance.
The science stuff was definitely cool. Though much of why this is happening and precisely who is responsible for it remains unanswered, Rush has not left her readers completely in the dark like some dystopian authors like to do. I hope to learn more about the processes and any special skills the boys have in the next book. I've always been a sucker for stories about people with special powers, whether mutated or scientifically-given, so this was right up my alley. So far, the book is not especially dystopian, although I think it does qualify, since the government does know of and fund the Program. Still, it's definitely not the best example of one.
There were, however, quite a few things I did not like. First off, there's the characterization. I hardly feel any connection to any of these characters, even Anna. Since I'm looking a the world through Anna's eyes, I ought to care whether she gets Sam, the boy she's been obsessed with for years...but I don't. Other than the fact that she likes to draw and drools over Sam, I know very little about her. She's sometimes sarcastic, but otherwise she's mostly just naive and kind of boring. The boys are a bit more interesting, with Sam being the one I have the least interest in. Actually, the character I liked best was definitely Nick, who I think was supposed to be the one that I didn't like.
It will likely not come as a surprise to find that I did not ship Sam and Anna, since I wasn't invested in either one individually. The biggest problem I had with them as a ship was that there didn't seem to be any reason for them to be into one another, aside from the whole physical attraction thing. Sam seems so much cleverer than Anna, and they really don't seem to share any interests aside from living. There was never anything to explain why she crushed on him so hard or any conversations between the two about something normal to show a real connection, a possible basis for a relationship not driven by heightened we-could-die-at-any-moment emotions. As far as I can tell, their feelings are manufactured solely by the conditions in which they find themselves.
Perhaps the biggest reason that I couldn't handle them, though, was how obnoxious Anna was whenever she thought about him. She indulged in the kinds of phrases YA heroines love to bandy about that always make me want to punch everything. Here are a couple (though they're from the ARC and could be changed pre-publication):
"If I had known the night before would be our final night together, I would have spent more time with him.
I would have told him how much he meant to me, that not a second went by when I didn't think about him."
Let's analyze this, shall we? It should be noted that this is early on in the book and Sam has expressed zero interest in her romantically at this point. Her phrasing implies a stronger connection than they had (they played chess together at night, which he always won). What really irritates me is the second half where she says that 'not a second went by' without thoughts of him. Really?! How does she manage to function? Well, she kind of doesn't. She really doze zone out a lot while thinking of him, but, still, think about the implications. When she's taking a dump, she thinks of Sam. All of her dreams? About Sam. NO.
"I fought for air but came up short, like I was drowning, like the panic had filled my mouth, my nose. I gulped. Sam tipped my head back and air trickled into my lungs. This was not happening. Those men were not dead. And Dad was not shot. And I was not so close to Sam that I could feel his breath on my face."
This quote is worse, as the first can be dismissed as merely a poetic flight of fancy, exaggeration used to show the scale of her love (obsession). This one, though, not so much. Let me add some context: Sam has just shoved her against a rough brick wall, only to stop her from punching him but still. Her first reaction is panic. Okay, good so far. Then disbelief at all the crazy shit that went down (many men were killed so the boys could escape). Realistic response. Her final reaction? Squeeing over how close she is to Sam. *headdesk* This guy just killed a bunch of people, shot your father, and shoved you into a wall and you're STILL distracted by how sexy he is. Oh, HECK NO.
That all sounds quite harsh, I know, but Altered was a fun, if mindless read. I definitely intend to continue with the story and hope that, since Rush's writing is good, that she will develop further with her characters. Personally, I would love to see a wrench thrown into the story...like Anna starting to like Nick instead? That would be awesome. My opinion: fun book with sexy boys and action scenes but with some major issues.