Charisma by Jeanne Ryan
Publisher: Dial Books
Goodreads link: (click here)
What's it about?
Aislyn is smart, pretty and has a promising future as a scientist. She's only in High School, but she's can sequence DNA. She also suffers from crippling shyness. Her social anxiety has held her back in life, but it's about to affect her future. It's no longer about just being afraid to go to parties like a normal teenager. In order to get scholarship money, Aislyn has to put herself and her research out in the spotlight, and she's failing miserably. Every opportunity she gets terrifies her. How can she present her scientific data on gene therapy in front of strangers when she can't even confess her feelings to the guy she likes? All she wants is to make a difference in the world and help people with illnesses, like her younger brother, Sammy, who has cystic fibrosis. She knows that someday there could be breakthroughs that could lead to a cure for his disease as well as many other ailments, but unless she comes up with a way to pay for college, she won't be a part of it. Her father died tragically a few years ago, leaving her family struggling financially, so she needs to figure something out soon or be left without an education. When a rogue scientist at Nova Genetics offers Aislyn a secret, experimental "cure" for her shyness called "Charisma" involving gene therapy, Aislyn jumps at the chance. She had no choice but to jump into it, it was now or never, so she chose now. Suddenly, Aislyn is feeling the anxiety ease up and she's able to speak her mind more freely. Social situations are not only becoming bearable, but she's starting to enjoy being in the spotlight. Her life is finally turning around. But her internal makeover is, of course, too good to be true.
She's noticing that other teens she knows from Nova Genetics are acting out of character, so Aislyn assumes that they, too, received the same treatment. At first, life is great, but the other test subjects start dropping like flies to mysterious illnesses, some of them have even died. Now, Aislyn is in a race against time, with the help of cocky yet compassionate Shane, another test subject, to find the scientist who caused this, and hopefully be cured of what appears to be a deadly new disease. The worst part is, they may have spread it to the people they love most. When the news that these "enhancements" have mutated into a contagious disease, there's a media frenzy and Aislyn becomes the focus of it all. At least she has the Charisma to handle it all. She knows that finding a cure will save many lives, but it also means that Aislyn will go back to her old, introverted self, but at least she'll be alive...unless someone gets to her first to use her Charisma as a bio-weapon. All she wanted was to be less shy, she never meant to risk her life for science.
Charisma is a smart, entertaining, well researched, edge-of-your-seat YA medical thriller.
I was very intrigued by this book as soon as I heard about it. I was wondering how it would handle the topic of gene therapy. There is a very well known third book in a series that tackles genetics and it failed miserably (not mentioning names but it rhymes with FAILegiant). In that book it was obvious that the author didn't know anything about genetics. In THIS book (Charisma), it's obvious that Jeanne Ryan took great care to research not only the science behind gene therapy, but also the ethical dilemmas that this field faces. She stressed the immense benefits to this scientific breakthrough and posed questions about "how far is too far?" when it comes to using this technology.
In the book, Aislyn has a younger brother with CF (cystic fibrosis) who needs to be involved in the trials at Nova Genetics to save his life, while Aislyn is struggling with her own ailment, social anxiety disorder. Hers is not life threatening, but there is no doubt that it is affecting her life. Jeanne Ryan does a wonderful job conveying what it feels like to be crippled with fear over something as simple as being at a crowded party or on a stage presenting a project. I actually was able to feel her anxiety through the pages. You're left to consider whether it's really necessary to try to "cure" something like that (if it becomes possible), but understanding that it is a real problem for those that deal with it on a daily basis. Throughout the book, Aislyn grows as a character and you kind of wonder how much of it is from her DNA and how much is from her experiences.
There is also romance in Charisma. At first, I was afraid it was going to end up being a love triangle, but it wasn't, and Aislyn made me proud.
The characters are part of what made this book so good for me. They all grew and developed naturally, and I ended up becoming very attached to them. Friendship, family and love are central to this story. There are definitely some touching moments in this book, as well as a few very sad ones that may bring a tear or two to your eyes.
So, Charisma has thrills, intrigue, science, excitement, emotional ups and downs, ethical dilemmas and romance, PLUS, I learned quite a bit while reading it! For me, it was a winner!