I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Spliced by Jon McGoran
Published by Holiday House on September 29 2017
Genres: Young adult, Science fiction
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The nitty-gritty: A super fun read with a cool concept, well drawn characters, and some social commentary for those who like depth with their action.
This might be the quickest I have ever read a book! I got through Spliced in just over a twenty-four hour time period, mostly because I stayed home sick from work and had lots of time to read, but also because this was such a fun and fast-paced story. I did, however, have some issues with the book, which I’ll go into later, but I can’t deny it was a great reading experience. When you figure in an extremely creative idea—genetically splicing animal genes into humans to create hybrid creatures called chimeras—you have an irresistible combination.
Jimi, her brother Kevin and their mom live in Philadelphia, in a future that has seen several world-wide catastrophes that have changed life for the worse. Something called the Cyber Wars between the U.S. and just about every other country resulted in the near destruction of the internet, and now only rich people have access to it, via implants called WellPlants. Several devastating flu epidemics have also thinned the population and created economic ruin for many families. In Philadelphia, the city is divided into the main city where electricity still runs, and the dangerous outskirts of town called the “zurbs” where solar power is the only option and houses lie in ruins. It’s the zurbs where most of the city’s chimeras live, humans who have been “spliced” by having animal genes injected into their systems, where they combine with human DNA to create animal characteristics.
Del lives next door and is Jimi’s best friend. One day after missing the school bus, Jimi and Del decide to cut through the zurbs in order to make it to school on time, when they witness police brutality against a group of chimeras who are minding their own business. Del is enraged and attacks one of the cops, leaving him for dead, although Jimi has too much of a conscience to let him die, and saves him before running off with Del. But soon after this incident, Del disappears, and Jimi is distraught.
Jimi knows she has to find Del, and so she befriends the chimeras who were attacked by the police. When she hears a rumor that Del might have been spliced himself, she joins forces with Rex, a chimera with dog-like qualities who has information that may lead them to Del. But finding him is only the beginning, as other chimeras have gone missing, and Jimi is certain that something bad is about to go down involving an anti-chimera group called Humans for Humanity.
McGoran’s story turned out to be less animal/human gene splicing science and more about the sociological implications of a new “race” of beings, and how this affects everything from politics to race relations. Spliced turned out to be very light on the science aspects of splicing, but although this bothered me a bit (I was hoping for more detail and physical descriptions of the how and why of splicing), I did appreciate the fact that the author chose to address some hot button issues that we’re dealing with today, which made for a very powerful story. Splicing has been more or less accepted for the past five to ten years, although it’s illegal for a medical doctor to perform a splice. That forces those who want to go through with the procedure to seek out back alley hacks where splices are hit or miss. Rich people can afford a “targeted splice,” like getting leopard spots on your back or even a small feather dangling from your ear, but most people simply choose the animal they want to be spliced with and hope for the best.
Splicing brought to mind a couple of things. First, I like the way McGoran addressed teen peer pressure, and getting the procedure (and having your friends try to pressure you into doing it) felt very much like drug or alcohol use. There is a very uncomfortable recovery period after splicing, and not all splices go well, and sometimes people die from the experience.
McGoran’s main message, however, deals with race relations. Chimeras are not only seen as different, and ostracized because of it, but a growing movement suggests that they shouldn’t even be considered human anymore. The city of Philadelphia has just passed the Genetic Heritage Act which proclaims that chimeras don’t have the same rights as humans. It certainly struck a little too close to home, what with all the drama our current presidential administration is causing. In fact, I wasn’t surprised to discover that one of the characters is a Trump-like bad guy who developed the WellPlant, the internet implant that only the top tier of society can afford.
I was also reminded of an old movie called Alien Nation about a society where aliens have been integrated into daily life on Earth, but there is still a lot of prejudice against them. Clearly prejudice against people who are “different” isn’t going away anytime soon, which is sort of the point McGoran is making.
And because this is YA, you know there is going to be a romance. Initially I thought it was going to be between Jimi and Del, but since Del disappears for much of the story, the mysterious, attractive and “off limits” Rex gets the job. I honestly wasn’t bothered too much, because the romance is under the radar and definitely not the focus of the story.
However, I did have an issue with parts of the world building. The story is clearly set in the future (although I don’t recall the author mentioning the year), because there are such things as self-driving cars and mail drones, but those elements didn’t really fit into a world where the energy grids seem so unpredictable. The whole story has the feeling of a post apocalyptic society, where those unfortunates that have to live in the zurbs don’t have any power (except solar), and yet there are train lines still running.
There were also some logistical problems for me. A safe place for chimeras called Haven is outside the city, but it’s a little unclear just how far away it is. Considering it’s a big secret, I found it odd that it turned out to be only an hour train ride away. There was also a town called Pitman extremely close to Haven, and I never understood how Haven could remain a secret with so many people right in the neighborhood. I feel like McGoran went out of his way to describe his characters getting from one place to another, but it just didn’t always add up for me.
But despite my quibbles, I had great fun with this story, and there is a lot to chew on. The ending had a cool twist that I didn’t see coming, and the author even suggests that there could be a sequel on the horizon. If you’re in the mood for an exciting story that will make you think, you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of this book.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.