Release date: 10th August 2010 US
Genre: Contemporary YA/ Ethics
Target audience: 12+
Nobel Genes is a story about who we are and where we come from. It is a contemporary story set in America and it raises questions about the ethics of genetics and the origin of our identity.
When I finished reading this book, I knew that I had enjoyed it but I couldn’t for the life of me remember the main character’s name. So I searched through the book and realised that he never actually tells us his name which is very much in tune with the story. It is a first person narrative told by a boy. I don’t think he reveals his age either but I imagined him to be around eleven. The boy is referred to by others in terms of labels. He is “the kid”, “Nobel son”, and “paperboy”. So Nobel Genes is partly a story about identity. The boy is obsessed with finding his father who gave him these genes. His father is a mystery. The donor bank cannot reveal who his Nobel father is and so the boy has many fantasies about the great achievements of his father.
In a way this story is not so much about the Nobel father as it is about the boy’s mother. She is suffering with mental health issues and cannot leave the house. The boy takes on the role of his mum’s carer – even buying her cigarettes, monitoring her behaviour. He is very aware that if social services find out he is taking care of his mum, he will be taken from her. It is a sad and moving story and it was nice to see young adult fiction exploring the role of a young carer.
The way the story is told is rather unusual. There is very little dialogue. The boy’s narrative is almost stream of consciousness as he reveals his life to the reader. It feels as if he is speaking directly to you and thus it is easily accessible. And yet, it is also edge of your seat reading because you cannot help but feel for this boy who is burdened by responsibility.
I loved the science references in this novel. This morning when I woke up there was one phrase that was imprinted on my thoughts and it was: primordial soup. The ending is suitably ambiguous and though it may not leave you feeling wholly satisfied, it did fit with the story. There was a beautiful symmetry to it. Read Nobel Genes if you’re looking for something different and moving.