In her latest YA novel Project Renovatio, Allison Maruska (the author of The Fourth Descendant and Drake and the Fliers) has once again proven her incredible ability to craft a well-written, thought-provoking, suspenseful thriller to keep readers riveted and yearning for more.
Project Renovatio explores the possibilities and ethical implications of genetic engineering to alter human DNA. At first glance Levin Davis seems to be your typical twenty year old with a job, girlfriend and love for his family. Yet, when Levin receives a mysterious letter from a man named Scott, a man with whom he shares a striking resemblance, he becomes embroiled in an adventure with life changing consequences.
Suspense permeates throughout the book. Maruska does offer foreshadowing, but her approach is skillfully subtle and effective to the story’s pacing. The plot never feels rushed because Maruska takes the time to fully develop her characters and plot so that readers will gratefully anticipate every twist and turn.
Her characters are strong and determined despite unimaginable circumstances beyond their control. The siblings, Levin, Rana and Dayla, are a great team. Individually, each character moves the plot forward. Levin is the take charge, protective older sibling. While the young man confesses that he is not a confrontational person, as the story unfolds, the reader is aware that Levin is prepared to do whatever it takes to guarantee the well-being of those people he loves. Middle sibling Rana is also strong-willed. She is a teen navigating high school angst when she too is trapped within the web of Project Renovatio. Often, Rana demonstrates that she is an invaluable asset to Levin. Youngest sister Dayla is very intelligent, a walking encyclopedia of animal facts. Maruska makes the calculated risk of balancing Dayla’s childlike exuberance against her intellectual prowess. This risk pays off. Dayla is a tremendous help to her siblings in confronting the challenges of Project Renovatio.
What is interesting about Maruska’s writing style is that her characters are not thrown into the narrative as mere plot devices. She takes the time to prowl around her characters’ brains, to understand their strengths and flaws, and to get to know them so that the readers will also want to know them. For example, secondary characters such as Levin’s mother Liz and his stepfather Walt, also play a key role even when the siblings appear to carry the narrative. While the reader might question the characters’ choices, we are willing to sympathize with the weighty consequences that these characters face due to such choices.
Scott is one of the architects of the mystery. It is the letter that he sends to Levin that sends Levin and his siblings on the path to uncovering the truth about Project Renovatio. Who is Scott really? Is he a friend or is he a foe? I will not give away spoilers, but Scott is an intriguing character who proves to be pivotal as the mystery unravels.
Project Renovatio addresses themes of choice, loyalty and love. There is an underlying heroism suggested in reaching within oneself to fight and rise above the impossible.
My only criticism of the book is that it was a short read. As I journeyed through the various twists and turns, I felt sad when the book ended. Fortunately, Maruska promises a sequel. Readers will be grateful.