Fifteen-year-old Mason has never met his father. His responsibilities at home include picking his mother up from the local tavern when the bouncers set her on the curb, then sobering her up for another shift at the nursing home, and occasionally sneaking in to help her complete a shift. One day when he’s at the nursing home he pops in a DVD—footage of his father, his face obscured, reading a children’s book—and a previously comatose teenage girl wakes up at the sound of his voice. She turns out to be part of an experiment in genetic engineering intended to turn kids into self-sustaining life forms who can survive without food or water. She’s also gorgeous, which motivates Mason to err on the side of running away with her in a valiant but dangerously misguided attempt at saving her. The only thing standing in his way is the faceless man behind this plan, known only as the Gardener.

Author S.A. Bodeen has laced this sci-fi-tinged page-turner with thoughtful commentary on world hunger, sustainability, biology and biomedical ethics, plus several high-speed chases and a believable budding romance, and the whole thing works like a charm. The giant Tro-Dyn Corporation and its generous scholarships that keep local kids indentured—and quiet about what really goes on there—make for high tension, and the notion that these photosynthetic food-and-
water-free teens, originally conceived to combat famine, might make perfect low-budget soldiers is downright eerie to contemplate. I stayed up late to find out how it all ended, and stayed up after that because The Gardener raised so many timely and pointed questions.
 
 

 

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