Cassandra Gupta, a biracial, Indian-American 17-year-old, has been working a boring intern job at NASA when she’s chosen to go to Houston to compete for a seat on the next space mission.
The child of an Indian dad and a white mom, Cassandra was born in the first generation of designer babies, with DNA that was altered in vitro to give her optimal traits for athleticism and intelligence. Believing this is why she may have been selected, she sets off for Houston with one goal in mind: to win. Candidates from around the world, all under the age of 25, will endure a crash-course space camp that includes astronaut classes along with physical and psychological endurance testing. As the youngest, the anti-social Cassandra slowly begins to bond with the other participants. Friendships are made, but suspicions arise after a mysterious accident, and one by one, candidates drop out. Cassandra’s closest friends, Mexican-American Emilio and Japanese-American Mitsuko, believe this expensive and unlikely government program isn’t what it seems. There is little new here, as this book joins a small plethora of other teen novels with similar setups. Narrator Cassandra’s inner monologue becomes repetitive, as she makes the same observations about her friends over and over. Her one-note focus on winning obscures any potential complexity the author could have explored with her genetically engineered character.
The slow-moving story leads to a rushed cliffhanger ending that perplexes more than it entices. (Science fiction. 13-17)