Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Double Helix

Double Helix

Nancy Werlin
For ages 14 and up
Penguin, 2005   ISBN: 978-0142403273

When he was younger, Eli had a pretty normal childhood. He lived with his parents and they had good times together. Then Eli’s mother began to experience the symptoms of Huntington’s disease, a genetic disorder that destroys the life of the person who has it. It can also wreaks havoc on the lives of the patient’s family members, which is what has happened to Eli and his father. The two of them now live in a small apartment together while Eli’s mother lives in a care facility. She no longer knows who anyone is, and they know that she does not have much time left.

Eli and his father have not been getting along for a while and everything got a lot worse when Eli recently admitted that he had not sent in any college applications. He plans on taking a year off. After all, he knows that there is no money in the family coffers. Why does Dad insist on him applying when there is no way to pay for college right now?

After drinking way too much one night, Eli writes an email to Dr. Wyatt, the famous scientist whose build Wyatt Transgenic, a local business. In a rambling fashion Eli asks the scientist for a job. Later, after he sobers up, Eli feels mortified that he wrote and sent the email in the first place, but there is no way to undo what is done. It doesn’t really matter anyway because Dr. Wyatt probably just deleted the email when he saw it. If he saw it.

Eli is therefore very surprised when he is summoned to meet with the famous doctor. He is even more astonished when the doctor offers him a job as a lab assistant in his company. A real job with benefits and everything. Eli is thrilled, but he doesn’t tell his dad who he will be working for. Though his mother seemed to admire Dr. Wyatt, his father loathes the man. For a while Eli is able to keep his work situation a secret, but eventually his father finds out and he is beyond furious. Though his father asks Eli to quit the job, Eli refuses to stop working at the lab.

Eli has dinner with the doctor and then he is invited over to his house, where he meets a gorgeous and brilliant girl called Kayla. Talking to Dr. Wyatt about transgenics is fascinating and stimulating. At the same time Eli soon comes to appreciate that the doctor has no room in his life for moral decisions. If something seems rational and scientifically sound, the doctor thinks that it is a good thing.

Then Eli’s mother dies, and though he and his father have not been getting along, Eli does his best to support his father. They go for long silent walks together, and then Eli and his father go through Eli’s mother’s things, which is when Eli sees a picture in an album that completely floors him. There is a photo of his mother when she was Eli’s age and she looked then almost exactly like Kayla does now. How is that even possible? Clearly his parents are connected to Dr. Wyatt somehow, and just as clearly Kayla is also connected to the scientist. Eli sets about trying to find the truth about his mother and Kayla. He never suspects that this will cause him to learn about who he is and how he came to be.

This fascinating novel explores the science and moral issues associated with genetic engineering. As the story unfolds, Eli struggles to come to terms with his feelings about genetic manipulation. When is it okay to tamper with Mother Nature and when does that tampering go too far?