Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Deadly Design

Deadly Design

Debra Dockter
For ages 14 and up
Penguin, 2015   ISBN: 978-0399171055

Almost eighteen years ago, after the death of one son and several miscarriages, Kyle’s mother gave birth to a healthy little baby boy. Two years later Kyle was born and he and Connor, his big brother, were close for a while. Then Conner began to go in for sports and he left his little brother behind. Over the years that gap between Conner and Kyle has grown and now it seems insurmountable.

   The strange thing about the brothers is that they are technically twins. Kyle’s parents were both carriers for a deadly disease, the disease that killed their first child. Desperate to have a healthy baby, they went to see a specialist, Dr. Mueller, who said that he would be able to remove the genetic material that caused the illness. After the doctor had done his magic, Kyle’s parents ended up with two embryos, one of which they implanted straight away, and one which they froze and had implanted two years later.

   Kyle is tired of being compared to his brother. They look alike, being identical twins, but otherwise they are very different. Conner is a high achiever and an athlete who excels in every sport that he does. Kyle hates sports and spends most of his time playing video games. He is an excellent gamer, but no one cares because everyone is too busy giving Conner all the attention. Not surprisingly, living in Connor’s shadow has made Kyle angry and resentful.

   On the day of Conner’s eighteen birthday, Kyle reluctantly attends the traditional family celebration. Later that evening Connor comes to Kyle’s room, and for the first time in years the brothers connect, playing video games together and talking about the future. Connor has made an effort to reach out to his brother and perhaps now they can work towards being friends again.

   In the morning Kyle goes to wake his brother up and he finds that Connor has died. His heart just stopped. No one can understand how such a thing could happen to a healthy young man. It makes no sense. Then Kyle starts trying to find out more about the man who made it possible for him and Conner to be born, and he discovers that Conner is not the only Mueller baby to die on or around his eighteenth birthday. There are others, all of whom had their DNA ‘fixed’ to remove dangerous health conditions.

   With his friend Cami to help him, Kyle keeps digging and he finds out that all the Mueller babies grew up to be beautiful, smart, and athletic. They are, in short, designer babies, but clearly something Dr. Mueller did to them has gone horribly wrong and his creations are now running out of time. For no apparent reason, their hearts just stop. Desperate to save himself and the remaining genetically modified teens, Kyle searches for answers, never imagining that what he will find out could change his whole view of the world.

   In this gripping and wonderfully crafted novel, the author explores the world of genetic manipulation. We see, through Kyle’s eyes, how a procedure that brings joy to couples, ends up causing so much misery and loss all because someone took things too far. The opportunity to play God, and to profit from the process, is something some people cannot resist. Kyle grows and he starts connecting with others as the story progresses, adding interesting, more personal, elements to the narrative.