While the cover gives this book a stark dystopian or sci-fi feel, it may help readers to approach it as a contemporary YA with light speculative-fiction elements. With its abundance of pop culture references and vague genetic and medical allusions, there’s little to no world-building to worry about. The prose is straight-forward and unobtrusive in pacing. And the premise itself is certainly relevant to the current atmosphere of scientific advancement, bringing up a range of complex ethical questions for readers to chew on. Though the more villainous element felt one-dimensional, several side characters proved interesting--between the other modified “superior” youths, the sassy and non-coddling Cami, and the endearingly PTSD-addled Uncle Jimmy.
The most positive aspect of this book, in this reviewer’s opinion, is the underlying message of not taking life for granted. It also does the more subtle service of outlining sociopathic behavioral patterns, along with implying how much potential damage such narcissistic individuals can wield when given power over life itself.
On the downside…
Kyle is unfortunately lacking in likeability.
Okay, that’s putting it mildly. Kyle starts out as the kind of guy you would want to see air-dropped into the middle of a 3rd world country and left there until he’s had a sufficient attitude adjustment… or contracts malaria. Whichever comes first.
Surpassing relatable teenage angst, Kyle is miserably self-pitying, judgmental, and cynical beyond reason—frequently demonstrating traits many readers may find difficult to sympathize with. It would be one thing if his brother, Connor, were a jerk to him or in any way undeserving of the attention and recognition that Kyle so resents. But Conner is, it seems, dreadfully perfect in both performance and character. After Connor’s death Kyle shows some degree of growth, however stunted by his fixation with assuming everyone wishes it were him that died instead of his brother. Thankfully he does move on from insufferable to tolerable, but the transition took significantly longer than I would have preferred.
There were also times when suspension of disbelief was difficult. Kyle is also supposed to be a genius, but doesn’t come across as particularly clever. In the midst of dealing with intellectually arrogant mad scientists, he doesn’t think to record their conversations—nor does he consider making contingency plans in the event things go sideways. (One could understand why he might hesitate to go to the police if said scientists may have powerful people in their pockets, but why not have something in place that would bring the media into the mix to expose the blatant human rights issues?)
Content Note: For the parents or teens to whom it may concern, this book does contain a fair bit of cursing—which felt partially like an effort to make Kyle emit a more consistently masculine impression. It also depicts parent-facilitated underage drinking, and teen sex (although closed-door, treated with some degree of value, and involving parent-facilitated contraception.)