Module #9: Double Helix

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Eli and his father live in an uncomfortable, awkward, and at times tumultuous home.  After obtaining a job with a famous biologist, Dr. Wyatt, Eli's estrangement from his father grows as a mystery decades old unravels.  What is the relationship between Eli's terminally ill mother and Dr. Wyatt?  Why does Eli's father hate the biologist so much?  Who is the mysterious, beautiful girl staying with Dr. Wyatt and why does Eli feel so drawn to her?  His relationships unfurl and deteriorate as Eli seeks the answers to his questions.  When he learns the truth, will it change how Eli sees himself?

APA Reference:
Werlin, N. (2004).  Double helix. New York, NY:  Dial Books.

Professional Review:

DOUBLE HELIX Nancy Werlin. Dial, $15.99 (256p) ISBN 0-8037-2606-6

In this mesmerizing novel, Werlin (The Killer’s Cousin) adapts the medical mystery genre to explore the bewildering, complex issues surrounding experimental gene therapy. Narrator Eli Samuels, about to graduate from high school, has fired off an e-mail to Quincy Wyatt, a world-famous scientist and head of a genetics research corporation–stunningly, Wyatt summons Eli and offers him a job. Eli is thrilled, but the news horrifies his father, who, without explanation, asks Eli to turn it down (Eli takes it anyway). Eli’s father’s silence on the subject of Wyatt has many precedents within Eli’s home. Eli’s mother is rapidly deteriorating from Huntington’s disease, a hereditary illness. Eli has not told his girlfriend, Viv, about his mother nor even introduced Viv to his father. Eli has talents he hides, but somehow Wyatt knows of them and even takes pride in them. Meanwhile Eli knows that his father conceals other information–and that Wyatt has somehow been pivotal to his family. The characterizations feel somewhat incomplete, but the plot moves at a tantalizing clip, with secrets revealed in tiny increments, and hints and clues neatly planted. Werlin distills the scientific element to a manageable level, enough for readers to follow Eli as he ponders Wyatt’s work and his mother’s illness. As the author tackles bioethical issues, the story’s climax appeals to reason and love for humanity without resorting to easy answers. Brisk, intelligent and suspenseful all the way. Ages 12-up.(Mar.)

DOUBLE HELIX (Book) [Review of the book Double helix]. (2004). Publishers Weekly251(7), 173-174.

Nancy Werlin’s medical mystery weaves suspense and medical drama into a thought-provoking narrative.  The main characters, Eli, Dr. Wyatt, and Eli’s father, are complimented by a cast of secondary female characters, the enigmatic Kayla and Eli’s girlfriend Viv.  Werlin creates strong supporting female characters who display confidence, courage, and intelligence, helping to unweave the puzzle Wyatt presents.  In Dr. Wyatt we see the epitome of egotism in medical research and blatant disregard for ethical issues, a warning that Werlin brings home to the readers.   Even with a whispered warning regarding the implications of researching involving stem cells, embryos, and genetic engineering, the book itself does not come off as didactic or overly-preachy. Instead, the reader is left with questions regarding these issues and the thrill of a well-structured and evenly paced mystery. 

Library Uses:This title is a terrific choice as a read aloud for Language Arts classes and Biology or other science classes as it allows teachers to build cross-curriculuar connections through literature.  The library can support the exploration of medical ethics through text sets that include other science fiction and literary texts and nonfiction texts that address the scientific and ethical issues that surround genetic engineering and research.  Additional novels may include Jodi Piccoult’s My Sister’s Keeper and Nancy Farmer’s House of the Scorpion.

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