Friday, December 18, 2009

Brave New World in YA Fiction Part I

I've recently been on a roll reading Young Adult/Teen fiction that deals with bioethical issues akin to Brave New World; cloning, artificial bodies, genetic manipulation and so forth.
In this post and the next few, I'll begin to discuss a few of the books I've read and list a few others for your perusal.

Double Helix by Nancy Werlin

Although it’s described as a mystery for teens, Double Helix is more a discussion about genetic manipulation and IVF and how children created through the science of genetics might be affected emotionally and psychologically. The author, Nancy Werlin uses the genetic disorder, Huntington’s as the platform for this discussion.

With the opening pages, we get the sense that Eli Samuels is very different from your average teenager.
“And though anyone would find the chairs uncomfortable, they were particularly bad for me. My knees stuck up awkwardly, making the pant legs of my borrowed suit look even shorter than they were. There was nothing I could do about that – my father was only six foot three. His jacket, also, was too tight across the shoulders on me.”

It soon becomes apparent that Eli is physically and intellectually gifted . Werlin highlights just how different Eli is when he partakes in a brief game of pick-up basketball with a few older men in his neighbourhood. But for Eli, there is a sense that there is something about himself that he doesn’t know, something that is possibly, deeply disturbing. Maybe that is why instead of heading off to college as his father expects, Eli shows up at Wyatt Transgenics seeking a job. When Dr. Quincy Wyatt, head of Wyatt Transgenics offers Eli a job, his father’s warning to refuse the offer merely confirms his suspicions that there is some secret to his past. This mystery is further compounded by the fact that Eli’s mother is dying of Huntingtons.

Werlin also explores the impact of Huntingtons on families since this is an inheritable genetic disorder. Eli’s family has been fractured by his mother Ava’s rapid descent into Huntingtons. He and his father are emotionally distant and We see Eli struggle with whether he should get tested and how he emotionally isolates the one person he knows loves him unconditionally, his girlfriend Viv Fadiman.

When Eli meets Kyla Matheson, a beautiful, seemingly perfect young woman, he has no idea just how quickly and drastically his world will change. For Eli, Kyla, is the key to all of his questions.

Werlin does a good job of exploring many ideas and bioethical questions associated with genetic manipulation. Do we, should we trust scientists opinions in difficult scientific matters? Does genetics enforce one’s destiny? Should scientists be allowed to experiment simply because they can? Should we always do something medical because we can without ever considering the social and moral implications of these actions?

Double Helix ends with a brilliantly written final chapter that asks us to look more deeply into the biomedical issues that our society is facing today, and to ask ourselves if, in the interests of trying to eliminate suffering we are in fact, losing our humanity.

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