Double Helix

Double Helix

by Nancy Werlin, Nancy

Eighteen-year-old Eli discovers a shocking secret about himself and his family while working for a famous scientist whose specialty is genetic engineering.See more details below

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Eighteen-year-old Eli discovers a shocking secret about himself and his family while working for a famous scientist whose specialty is genetic engineering.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Werlin is a mistress of intelligent, imaginative mystery writing for the YA crowd, and Double Helix is as good as anything she's done. — Elizabeth Ward
Publishers Weekly
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.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the award-winning mystery writer, whose Killer's Cousin (Delacorte, 1998/VOYA October 1998) was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, comes a mystery that revolves around a secretive molecular biology laboratory, its eccentric director, and a recent high school graduate. Seventeen-year-old Eli has always felt somewhat different from his peers; he is 6 feet 7 inches tall and still growing, excels to the point of perfection in sports, and intentionally made mistakes in school so that his girlfriend could become valedictorian. But all is not well. His mother is in a nursing home dying of a debilitating disease, one that Eli might have inherited. His reticent father broods and keeps secret what happened to Eli's mother years ago at Transgenic Labs. Eli's fear of the disease has almost destroyed his relationship with his girlfriend. He secures a summer job at the lab to do some investigating and soon encounters the overly friendly director and Kayla, an oddly familiar student who seems to be another perfect specimen. Together the two teens discover a hidden elevator that leads to an undocumented subbasement wherein lie many surprises. Was Eli genetically engineered? Why does Kayla look just like a young version of Eli's mother? The novel starts out a bit slowly, but the suspense builds quickly. The final revelations are surprising but disappointing—not particularly shocking and somewhat incomplete. The story is well told, however, and explores the ethical questions surrounding genetic engineering, an issue with which the next generation will undoubtedly wrestle. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High,defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Dial, 256p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Kevin Beach
Eighteen-year-old Eli has always been smarter, faster, and stronger than the average kid. He has never really questioned why until the mysterious and brilliant Dr. Wyatt begins to take a curious interest in him and offers him a job at his renowned lab, Wyatt Transgenics. When Eli's father pleads with him to decline the offer but refuses to explain why, Eli becomes more intrigued. His life gets turned upside down as he begins his search for answers and uncovers some disturbing secrets about his past. This suspenseful book is both mysterious and exciting. Nancy Werlin takes her readers on a wild ride with Eli as he struggles to gain an understanding of the secrets in his own past that may be his only hope in the future. This gripping novel explores some serious themes such as morality and the ethics of genetic engineering. It is also a story of the ties of love and loyalty that bond a father and son. 2004, Dial Books, 248 pp., Ages young adult.
—Sarah Briggs
Eli, just graduating from high school, has been offered a job as a lab assistant at Wyatt Transgenics. It sounds like a great position, but his father doesn't want him to take it and won't explain why. Eli knows that something went on between his parents and Dr. Wyatt in the past, but his father won't talk about it and his mother is too ill with Huntington's disease to communicate at all. Eli decides to take the job in spite of his father, but he discovers that there is more to the place than he had first suspected: a whole secret underground level, in fact. Dr. Wyatt takes a special interest in Eli, and engages him in stimulating conversations about genetics and the existence of free will. He introduces Eli to a beautiful girl named Kayla—and then Eli discovers that Kayla is the spitting image of his mother as a teenager. Together, Eli and Kayla uncover the daring and frightening genetic engineering experiments in which Dr. Wyatt has been engaged, and learn more about their own unusual heritage. This story about bioethics will appeal to the intellectually curious reader. Werlin, author of the acclaimed YA mysteries The Killer's Cousin, Black Mirror, and other novels, keeps the suspense high, and she draws convincing portraits of a bright young man, his anguished father, the clever, amoral, Dr. Moreau-like Dr. Wyatt, and the other characters. Lots of food for thought here. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2004, Penguin Putnam, Dial, 256p., Ages 15 to adult.
—Paula Rohrlick
Children's Literature
Can scientists succeed in selectively altering human DNA? If so, are such procedures ethical? Who gets to decide what is ethical? Edgar Award winner Nancy Werlin addresses these weighty questions in a compelling novel about Eli, a young man whose mother is dying from a debilitating genetic disease, leaving him to wonder whether he has inherited the DNA sequence that marks the disease. When the unqualified Eli is offered a job in the transgenetic lab of a famous molecular biologist, he begins to sense a mysterious connection between this doctor and his own family. Where does a cleverly concealed lab elevator lead? Who is the beautiful girl who looks so much like his mother when young? Eli's quest for answers leads him to some unsettling information about himself, his mother, and the doctor's secret experiments in the basement of the lab. While pursuing the truth about his past, the troubled young man must also confront his feelings for his faithful girlfriend and try to build a relationship with his secretive father. As the suspense builds, a chilling climax solves the mystery on one level, but leaves vital ethical questions unanswered. A more mature Eli urges his bioethics professor at MIT to include the general public in discussions about the ethics of genetic engineering, too important to be left to scientists alone. Young adult readers of Double Helix may well be inspired to join the dialogue between concerned citizens and the scientific community about issues raised by this timely mystery. 2004, Dial, Ages 12 up.
— Barbara L. Talcroft
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Eighteen-year-old Eli Samuels, whose once-vibrant mother is losing her long battle with the ravages of Huntington's disease, is hired at the Wyatt Transgenics Lab. Eli's father is dead set against the job because of a secret he harbors concerning the lab's owner, Dr. Quincy Wyatt, and Eli's mother. Shortly after starting work, the teen meets Kayla Matheson, a beautiful girl who eerily reminds him of a photo of his mother when she was young. Slowly, Eli uncovers one layer after another of the shocking truth about Dr. Wyatt's genetic-engineering experiments and their connection to his parents, Kayla, and himself. With the support of his longtime girlfriend and soul mate, he confronts Dr. Wyatt in a taut climax to the story. Werlin clearly and dramatically raises fundamental bioethical issues for teens to ponder. She also creates a riveting story with sharply etched characters and complex relationships that will stick with readers long after the book is closed. An essential purchase for YA collections.-Jack Forman, Mesa College Library, San Diego Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Tragedy and family politics combine for a suspenseful exploration of love and bioethics. Brilliant Eli has been fighting with his father for months. The fight began when Eli refused to apply to college, but the communication breakdown is rooted in their unshared and inarticulate grief over Eli's mother. The genetic disease that will eventually kill her has left Eli's once-loving mother shamefully insane. Desperate to escape home for the summer, Eli takes a job with the brilliant Dr. Wyatt. He's lucky to get a chance to work with the famous geneticist, but his father is furious. Some terrible secret lies between Dr. Wyatt and Eli's parents, which must explain Dr. Wyatt's fascination with Eli, and Eli's father's hatred of Dr. Wyatt. There will be no easy answers for Eli as he explores the mystery of his own past, and of the compellingly beautiful girl to whom Dr. Wyatt introduces him. Thought-provoking, powerful, and rich in character. (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.25(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

It was almost impossible for me to sit still -- but I had to. I couldn't be pacing frantically back and forth across the rich gray carpet of Wyatt Transgenics's expansive reception area when Dr. Wyatt -- the Dr. Wyatt --

But he'd send an assistant to get me, wouldn't he? To escort me to his office? He wouldn't come himself.

My knuckles were tapping out a random jumpy rhythm on the arm of the chair. I clenched my fist to stop it. I shifted my legs.

The chair I sat in was small and hard and low to the ground. Obviously, whoever designed the corporate reception area had been focused not on the comfort of visitors, but on showcasing the enormous double-helix staircase that dominated the atrium with its depiction of DNA structure. And though anyone would find the chairs uncomfortable, they were particularly bad for me. My knees stuck up awkwardly, making the pant legs of my borrowed suit look even shorter than they were. There was nothing I could do about that -- my father was only six foot three. His jacket, also, was too tight across the shoulders on me.

I tugged at my tie. I suspected -- no, I knew I looked ridiculous. The suit didn't even make me look older. And I now thought it had been completely unnecessary. In the time I'd been sitting here, at least a dozen Wyatt Transgenics employees had moved purposefully across the mezzanine area at the top of the double-helix staircase, and they'd all been wearing casual clothes. Sneakers. Jeans. T-shirts under lab coats. The only people in suits were the two security guards.

I could hear Viv's voice in my ear. Philosophical. Well, who knew? We both thought you ought to wear a suit.

We had. Viv had at first tried to convince me to buy a suit in the right size from a store. She'd been appalled when I explained the cost of a man's suit, and, undeterred, had spent all yesterday afternoon dragging me through used clothing stores in Cambridgeport. Excuse me, but do you have any suits that would fit my boyfriend?

When she'd failed to find one, she'd burst into tears. Right in the middle of Central Square.

Viv. If she weren't in my life...well. I couldn't imagine how lonely I would be.

Guilt stirred in me, though. Viv thought this was a job interview of some kind. A summer internship. I hadn't lied to her. I never lied to Viv. I had just, as always, kept quiet and let her think whatever she chose.

Of course, I could have kept it a secret that I was coming. But I'd felt as if I would burst if I couldn't say something. And who was there but Viv to confide in, even a little? I wasn't going to tell my father.

Once more I caught myself fidgeting, looking at the clock. My appointment had been for twenty minutes ago. I'd checked in with the receptionist ten minutes early, so I'd been here half an hour. I tried to work up irritation at being kept waiting. Dr. Wyatt was a busy man, an important man, a Nobel Prize winner, probably one of the most important scientists alive today -- but it was he who'd invited me. He who'd set the date and time. I'd had to duck out of school an hour early to get here by bus. It was rude of him to keep me waiting so long.

But the truth was, I didn't care. I was consumed by curiosity...and anxiety. I'd wait all afternoon if I had to.

Bottom line: I had no idea why I was here. Why I'd been...summoned. The woman who called me had simply said: We got your email. Dr. Wyatt has read it. He would like to meet you.

She did not say it was a job interview. She had not asked me to send, or bring, a r�sum� or a school transcript or any teacher recommendations.

We got your email.

I had emailed Dr. Wyatt. I had found his address on the Wyatt Transgenics website and I had written to him. That was a fact. Three weeks ago. But it had been a big mistake, a drunken impulse that had embarrassed me seconds after I'd clicked Send, and certainly it had never occurred to me that Dr. Wyatt himself would read my message. It was inconceivable that it had caused an invitation -- no, my earlier word was more accurate: a summons.

A command?

What was I doing here? Was this truly a job interview with Quincy Wyatt himself?

"Eli Samuels?" The voice from the mezzanine level was pitched normally, but it carried down to me as clearly as if the speaker were using a microphone.

My head jerked up. I found myself scrambling out of my chair. Staring up.

And...there he was. Dr. Quincy Wyatt, the man himself, twenty feet above me, standing at the top of the spiral of the double helix. He looked exactly like he did in the photographs. That big head with the tight, grizzled, reddish-white hair. The round black-rimmed glasses. The steel cane clenched in his left hand.

Viv's voice again. He's a legend, Eli! I mean, from seventh-grade biology class-Gregor Mendel, Watson and Crick, Quincy Wyatt. We had to learn all that stuff, remember?

I remembered, all right. I remembered, for reasons I'd never told Viv -- and never would, either.

I stared up the stairs at him. He at least was wearing a suit -- a cream-colored linen suit, with a beige shirt. His fit him better than mine did me. I was suddenly very conscious of my ankles, sock-clad but otherwise exposed to the world in the gap between the hem of my father's pants and my shoes.

Then Dr. Quincy Wyatt lifted one hand and beckoned. And, though I made no conscious decision to move, I found myself walking.

I crossed the reception area. I mounted the stairs. I felt his gaze on me, piercing, bright, interested. And when I reached the mezzanine, I stood quite still -- it didn't even occur to me to put out my hand in an offer to shake -- and he examined my face for two full minutes. I stood patient as a statue as his eyes took me in, missing -- I knew -- nothing. Not the ill-fitting suit, not the bulge of the book in my pocket, not the backpack dangling from my hand. Not even -- I'd have sworn -- a grain of my skin.

The most acute mind on the planet, he'd been called.

I wondered if he could see my soul. My lies to Viv. The drunken disaster I'd been that endless horrible spring night, after it had become clear to my father that no college acceptances or even rejections had arrived, and I told him the truth: They would not, because I had applied nowhere.

I thought that maybe I wouldn't mind if Dr. Wyatt could see everything.

At last, he nodded. "Eli Samuels," he said again. There was a tone to his voice -- as if I were a specimen now satisfactorily labeled and classified -- that reinforced my idea that he understood me better, somehow, than anyone else ever had, or would.

"Hello, Dr. Wyatt," I said. The words came out a little croaked; I had to clear my throat. And then I heard myself add inanely: "Here I am." I wanted to disappear; I felt so stupid.

But: "Indeed, Eli Samuels," said Dr. Wyatt. "Here you are."

Then he smiled directly at me. He smiled the way Viv's mother does when I come home with Viv after school.

The smile caused his cheeks to lift into little mountains on his face. And somehow I knew that I didn't need to be nervous or afraid anymore.

I smiled back. I was too relieved to do it well.

Dr. Wyatt lifted his steel cane a fraction of an inch from the floor, just enough to gesture with it. "Come with me into my office," he said, and turned. He limped a little as he moved, but he used the cane deftly, and I followed him in the same way that, as a child, I'd toddled confidently after my mother.

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