You know those Today in History lists? I love them, and I look at them almost every day. More often than not, they send me down some internet rabbithole about some historical event, figure, or oddity; sometimes they prompt me to start poking around, looking for fiction about the subject.
Which is how I found out that thirty-eight years ago today, Louise Brown was born, the first person known to have been conceived via in vitro fertilization. While there isn’t a whole lot of YA that deals with IVF—likely because now, forty years later, it’s a pretty standard fertility treatment—when it’s combined with genetic engineering, we’ve got a zillion and six recentish books to choose from. Here are a few of them:
Only Ever Yours, by Louise O'Neill
This book is set in a world where women are no longer born, they are created. And their sole purpose is to be there for men: to be beautiful and docile and compliant and pleasing. Only Ever Yours follows two sixteen-year-old girls, best friends in their last year in school, getting ready to be chosen as wives. While it promises to deal heavily with gender issues, female relationships, and our media/culture’s maddening insistence on deferring to the male gaze—all meaty topics that I adore exploring—I suspect that I might need a barf bag handy when I read it.
The Firefly Code, by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Suburban Kritopia seems idyllic, safe and happy and wholesome. But the arrival of a new girl in town leads twelve-year-old Mori and her friends to discover that the world that they’re living in is more dystopian than utopian. The Kirkus review doesn’t spoil whatever the Big Secret is—the kids have all grown up with the knowledge that they may have been genetically engineered, so that’s not it—but the allusions to memory loss are giving me a distinctly Stepford vibe. Which, of course, I am all in for. (Note! This book is geared quite a bit younger than some of the other books on the list—it’s straight-up middle grade—but I want to read it, so I’m including it.)
Zeroboxer, by Fonda Lee
Boxing! In space! In this one, the genetic modification angle is about adapting human bodies for a specific environment—quite different from most of the other books I’ve come across, which deal more with altering one’s appearance, personality, or latent abilities. I mentioned this one in a different round-up of books last year—so, while I still haven’t managed to get around to it, it’s clearly still very much on my radar.
In this trilogy, there is an entire subclass of genetically engineered people—they are considered “non-human” by the “trueborn”—and they are expected to serve and obey at all times. Failure to do so can result in personality erasure, even. As you may have guessed from the titles, a revolution is in the works, and our heroine is right in the middle of it. It sounds like the plotting is stronger than the prose, but if the pace is fast enough and the world is interesting enough, I can let a lot slide.
Wake Up Missing, by Kate Messner
Another middle grade book! This one sounds like a science-y version of Lois Duncan’s Down a Dark Hall. Instead of sketchy teachers using the paranormal to possess students with the ghosts of famous artists, Wake Up Missing features sketchy scientists implanting the DNA of famous scientists into their young patients. I know, right? So fantastic. It sounds so entirely bananas and so entirely fun that I’m including it even though doesn’t quite fit my original theme—because if I’d known that was the plot, I’d have read this one YEARS ago, and I imagine there are some of you out there who’ll feel the same way.
Suggestions or recommendations?
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.