Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Altered by Jennifer Rush

It seems these days that almost anything goes today in the world of young adult fiction. All you need is an extraordinary plot, a few cute guys, some sinister element, and off you go. Altered is one such book.

Anna Mason lives in a farmhouse with her father who is a researcher. Located below the farmhouse is some kind of genetics laboratory which contains four young men. These young fellows, Cas, Nick, Trev, and Sam were brought to the lab when Anna was thirteen. They have been genetically altered so that they do not age very much and their memories have been "wiped" so they do not remember their past. All they know is Anna and her father, Arthur, as well as the people who run the program which is run by an organization known as "The Branch". Anna who does not attend school, works with her father in the lab, taking blood samples after gassing each to sleep for 4 minutes (how strange is that?). In her spare time she bakes cookies for her experimental subjects and crushes on Sam, whom she sneaks down to visit at nighttime.

Things rapidly change however, when Anna's father, Arthur, informs her that Connor, who is head of this unidentified, classifed program is coming to visit the lab. Connor arrives with Riley and seven other agents, heavily armed to take Sam, Nick, Cas, and Trev away. But things don't go as planned and the four young men manage to escape, taking Anna with them.

Before they flee, Arthur tells Sam to head for a safe house in Pennsylvania. At this location they find a mysterious note that directs them to look at Sam's tattoo of birch trees on his back. From this point on, one clue leads to another as Anna and the "boys" (as she calls them) try to unravel the mystery of what happened to Sam and how he came to be in the lab. In the process Anna learns her connection to Sam is more than just a passing interest, and that he is part of something more sinister and larger than she could ever have imagined. The sinister program run by The Branch, is designed to create special warriors using genetic manipulation and a mind-changing drug called Altered. In addition, it appears these special warriors are sent on numerous missions, with their memories being wiped afterwards. But Sam was determined to leave clues for himself - clues that would help him learn what has been happening to him. Can he and Anna figure it all out, before it's too late?

Although the underlying premise is not unique and even somewhat strange ( a young girl has four men locked in her father's basement, which just happens to be a government lab?), most readers will soon move past the strange opening and onto enjoying this novel with its fast-paced mixture of  science fiction,action-adventure, mystery, and yes,  even a touch of romance. There are unexpected plot twists which connect together well, although some of discoveries of clues seem contrived. What Anna and the guys eventually learn about themselves, and the government program they are a part of begs questions about how far military experimentation should go when it comes to humans.

Rush does a great job of developing the characters as they begin to unravel Sam's past. Each character is very different; Sam is the intense, thoughtful love interest and leader, Cas is the funny man who is more concerned about filling his stomach, Trev is Anna's best friend who is always throwing out a quote, and Nick is the brooding bad-ass who wants to ditch Anna and isn't much interested in finding out about anything, including the past. Rush mostly succeeds in developing their relationship with Anna, possibly with the exception of Nick. Anna herself is a strong female character who can look after herself but is also struggling with the truths she uncovers and her place in all of this. Still Rush leaves some questions unanswered.

Altered is Jennifer Rush's debut novel and I believe part of a trilogy. Her website can be found here.

Book Details:
Altered by Jennifer Rush
New York: Little, Brown, and Company                 2013
323 pp.

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