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Double Helix: Nancy Werlin

Book: Double Helix
Author: Nancy Werlin
Pages: 256
Age Range: 14 and up 

Double HelixDouble Helix is a suspenseful novel for young adults, with a cutting-edge, scientific slant. Eli Samuels is a promising student, about to graduate high school in Cambridge, MA. In the presence of his mother's incapacitation from Huntington's Disease, Eli plans to take a year off before starting college. Based on a vague memory that his parents once knew the famous biologist Dr. Quincy Wyatt, Eli applies for a research job at Wyatt Transgenics. To his surprise, he's given a well-paying job working in one of the animal research labs at Wyatt. To his even bigger surprise, Eli finds that his father is downright hostile in regards to Quincy Wyatt. It soon becomes clear to Eli that there's a mystery about his family, one that also involves Dr. Wyatt. Eli works on tracking down the mystery, while also dealing with his complex family dynamics, his relationship with his girlfriend Viv, and the distraction of Dr. Wyatt's beautiful young houseguest.

Nancy Werlin is a gifted writer of eye-opening suspense novels. Her 2006 novel, The Rules of Survival was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Cybils Award. Double Helix is a quick read that touches on interesting questions about genetics and morality. Eli is a likable protagonist. Even when he's making what are clearly mistakes, you still pull for him. Although he's gifted in many ways, his problems and insecurities keep him utterly relatable for teens. Here are a few passages to give you a flavor for Eli:

"Sometimes--no, often--I hated being a teenager. Hated not having the full control I wanted. Even by the time you're eighteen, adults don't take you seriously. Even at eighteen, you're considered a kid." (Page 9)

"And suddenly I felt like an experimental rat in a lab cage, with sharp objects jabbing at me from all sides. It was the emotional analogue to the way I'd felt yesterday, poked and prodded, tissue- and blood-sampled, lung-capacity and hart-rate measured" (Page 38)

"It was a good week, a rare week. I found myself springing from bed each morning like a piece of toast from the toaster, and my legs seemed to have made an independent decision to fun all the way to work." (Page 69)

I don't want to say much more, because I wouldn't want to spoil the mystery. Let me just say that this is a compelling read that explores intriguing scientific and human questions. I think it will go over especially well with reluctant male teen readers, though there are a couple of strong female characters to appeal to girls, too. It would make a good companion novel to The Adoration of Jenna Fox. Because of the ages of the main characters, and the nature of some of the issues, I do think it's more a high school book than a middle school book. I'm adding it to my list of recommended Futuristic, Speculative, Science Fiction and Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults. Recommended. This is a read that I really enjoyed.

Publisher: Puffin Sleuth
Publication Date: May 2005
Source of Book: Signed paperback copy from ALA
Other Blog Reviews: MariReads, The Good, The Bad and the Bookish, BookKids, The Open Critic, Parenthetical.net
Author Interviews: Librarilly Blonde, Cynsations, Teenreads.com

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.