Deadly Design

by Debra Dockter
First sentence: “I was five years old when I found out that my older brother wasn’t just my brother.”
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Review copy downloaded from Edelweiss.
Content: There was a LOT of swearing in this (including quite a few f-bombs) plus some off-screen sex. That puts this squarely in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I didn’t quite know what to expect out of this one, when I first picked it up. It’s billed as a sci-fi thriller, but I don’t quite think that fits. It’s not really futuristic, though it is dealing with gene splicing and genetic manipulation. And it wasn’t really thriller-y, except for a bit near the end. So, I came to think of it more as a medical drama, and on that level it worked for me.

Kyle McAdams is the younger son of a couple who had problems conceiving and bearing children. The one they did have died fairly young. So, they went to a doctor who promised them that he could “create” healthy children for them: one egg, one sperm, some genetic manipulation and they’ll have a healthy kid. Except, in the petri dish, the egg splt, and suddenly they had two children. They chose to have one at a time, and so Connor was born two years before Kyle. The catch: they were identical, pretty much in every way.

So, Kyle spent most of his life (in small-town Kansas, outside of Wichita. Yes, the author is local(ish).) in the shadow of his older, perfect brother. Connor was into sports, the Valedictorian, had the perfect girlfriend. Kyle was… not. Even so, when Connor drops dead right before his 18th birthday, Kyle is shaken: they share the same genes, does this mean he’ll die, as well?

When Kyle starts going down the rabbit hole of his origin, what he finds out gets creepier and creepier. He and his brother aren’t the only genetically modified humans out there, and they all seem do die right before their 18th birthday. The question is: why?

I’ll be up front: Kyle is a bit of a moody jerk. (A bit is an understatement.) That makes it hard to connect with him. And so, what kept me reading at the beginning was the novelty factor: I love a good Kansas book that gets Kansas right, as opposed to being just a “nowhere” place. I loved that she got the feel of small town right. Or the visits they made to Wichita. Or the weather. It was lovely. And I loved her ruthlessness: she was killing people off right and left in the first third of the book. It’s always refreshing to have an author write like that.

It also helped that Kyle became less sulky and annoying as the book went on. I began to care about his plight, though I never really felt a sense of urgency about his death. I don’t know why that was; Dockter showed herself willing to kill everyone off, and they told me that Kyle was going to die. Therefore, there should have been tension, but I just didn’t feel it. I came to care about the people Kyle interacted with, and when the twist happened, I was pretty shocked. (No, I didn’t see it coming; then again, I never do.)

That said, I do have one major complaint: Kyle didn’t DO much of anything. He went to doctors who told him stuff, and people helped him, and doctors solved his problems (mostly). But he was more a reactor than an actor in his life. I wanted Kyle to be brilliant and find a solution to save his life, but no. Mostly he had other people do the work while he waited around for them.

But, that said, I did enjoy the science and the drama of it. It’s a solid debut novel and I am interested to see what Dockter writes next.

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