Author: Jennifer Rush
Genre: YA, biopunk, mystery, thriller, dystopia
Publication Date: January 1, 2013 (Little, Brown FYR – North America)
Source: Traded-for ARC
Summary: When you can’t trust yourself, who can you believe?
Everything about Anna’s life is a secret. Her father works for the Branch at the helm of its latest project: monitoring and administering treatments to the four genetically altered boys in the lab below their farmhouse. There’s Nick, Cas, Trev . . . and Sam, who’s stolen Anna’s heart. When the Branch decides it’s time to take the boys, Sam stages an escape, killing the agents sent to retrieve them.
Anna is torn between following Sam or staying behind in the safety of her everyday life. But her father pushes her to flee, making Sam promise to keep her away from the Branch, at all costs. There’s just one problem. Sam and the boys don’t remember anything before living in the lab—not even their true identities.
Now on the run, Anna soon discovers that she and Sam are connected in more ways than either of them expected. And if they’re both going to survive, they must piece together the clues of their past before the Branch catches up to them and steals it all away.
☆: 4/5 stars – a heart-pounding debut!
Review: Okay so…the whole “Dollhouse” meets “Prison Break” hard sell this book’s been doing around the YA blogosphere the last few months? Totally accurate. Though it was always questionable whether or not The Dollhouse itself was in fact part of the government pre-season 2 (Joss always left that a bit ambiguous), but no matter – here, in Jennifer Rush’s “Altered”, The Branch is definitely connected to the government and other shadowy forces, and may not be very awesome. But the world she’s built along with her characters? They’re definitely awesome. So much so that I’m definitely pining for book 2 right now. If you’re looking for some paranoid contemporary biopunk with a harem of teen boys thrown in? Definitely give “Altered” a try.
While I’d usually rail at the fact there’s totally a reverse-harem thing going on here, the action/tension that followed the slow-but-steady worldbuilding and awesome character building more than made up for that. This is not a fluffy book. It’s an incredibly fun book, but not fluffy. And the biopunk that goes on made me have warm fuzzies, because I have a big blind spot when it comes to mad science. While I do feel like the world could have been a little more sturdily built (and more information on the Branch in general, for example), what we were given was more than enough for a debut. So I rode with it.
The sensory language does make up for the slightly shaking worldbuilding, though it does take a few pages before this really kicks in. This entire book is one big chase after things get kicked off and the boys and Anna escape, and it doesn’t stop until (literally) the very last page. I loved this action and tension that didn’t let up, and I do have to say that Rush has some talent to be reckoned with in the sensory imagery department, because it only got stronger as the book went on. And as for plot building/arc creation, she has no issues there. There was at no point in this book where I felt my attention starting to wander or get bored, and I really enjoyed pretty much every second. While I can say I saw one of the Big Reveals coming, the rest? Nope. Didn’t see those coming at ALL. And I love it when an author can spring one like that on me not once, but multiple times throughout the same book.
But what really makes “Altered” are the characters – all five of the main cast. The dynamic between Anna, Trev, Cas, Nick, and Sam is nothing less than electric the entire time, even when they’re bickering amongst each other concerning their next move against Branch and to keep themselves free. The character relationships are not only strong, but they’re versatile. While I think Anna grows the most outside of the boys (and within the harem, er, boys, Trev), each character gets their own development/journey arc, which is always a good thing when you’re trying to build up your main cast. Everyone is very flexible in this book, be it in terms of their relationships or their alliances to Anna or the Branch. I loved that versatility the most, and I feel that it’s going to make book two just as awesome as book one.
Final verdict? If you’re looking for a bit of a guilty pleasure with awesome sci-fi/biopunk elements, give “Altered” a try. I really enjoyed it, and for that reason, it’s going on my best of 2013 so far list. “Altered” is out now from Little, Brown FYR in North America, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance!