Review: Altered by Jennifer Rush

Altered
Jennifer Rush

Little, Brown & Co.
Releases January 2, 2013
336 pages
YA / Science Fiction / Genetic Altering

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A story that starts with a girl and a boy. A girl who loves a boy so much , she'll risk anything for him. And a boy who knows only one thing--- kill anyone who stands in his way.

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.

On the surface Altered sounded a bit like Touch, a book that wasn’t all that great but left me giggling like an idiot anyways because I love adorable puppy boys that are clueless about modern day culture. Despite that, I was a little cautious due to the similarities in the two book’s descriptions. Genetic testing? Check. Boy looked up? Check. Girl who leaves with genetically altered boy? Check.

But Altered is nothing like Touch past the surface details. It’s Memento meets The Bourne Identity meets the first season of Heroes. This book is well-written, well-paced and left me not wanting to put it down due to the well-crafted plot twists and the fun secondary characters. Anna seems a bit weak at the start, but she slowly comes into her own as the secrets of her life begin to unfold. By the time she figures things out about her past, I could not leave the story until I saw how things planned out. Throughout the book, with each new development, I attempted to tease out the ending. It’s a bad habit I have and, normally, I come pretty close to putting all the pieces together, but with Altered I was genuinely surprised by the end – the betrayals, the reveals, the final conclusions.

The seemingly insta-love between Sam and Anna doesn’t feel fake because for the first half, it’s a very one-sided adolescent crush on Anna’s part, one she’s been nursing for years while this strange genetically altered soldier remained trapped in her basement. Anna is a sheltered girl, who has a strange attraction to an older boy who doesn’t seem to age or sleep – a boy who takes the time to play chess with her in the middle of the night, a boy who leaves her flustered with a look and one she can’t stay away from. I suppose it’s not insta-love so much as an extreme crush bordering on obsession, but in that normal teenage girl sort of way. It’s believable because Anna reads younger than she is due to her isolation, her loneliness and her lack of experience in the greater world. That she manages to hold her own with the four super boys is a testament to Rush’s story telling abilities as much as it is a natural progression of the story. Anna grows without you ever seeing it until, suddenly, she’s strong despite – or maybe even because – of her vulnerabilities.

It would have been easy to cast the three other boys as stock characters, and to a point, they are. There’s the silly one, the angry one and the brotherly one, who just wants to take care of Anna. Sam is the loner, standoffish and quietly aggressive as he attempts to keep everyone safe while remaining isolated in his own thoughts. Altered follows a path down Sam’s past, led by clues he left for himself who knows how many years earlier. This Memento-ish take on erased memory allowed the story to build in suspense with each new clue, each new twist that just swung the story into another direction. Rarely was there a moment when I felt like I had a firm enough grasp on the direction of the story before Rush knocked the ground out from beneath my feet.

I love that type of story-telling and so I became addicted to Altered.

But it’s the ending where Rush really won me over. As with most YA books these days, this is the beginning of a new series. You can tell at the end that there are strands of story-telling left hanging for future books, but at the same time Rush finishes the story of Altered with a nicely wrapped up ending. Enough of the background and history of the characters is revealed, while the main conflict is resolved to make it feel like this could easily be a standalone story. Yes, there are baddies hiding in the wings and there’s still a bunch of super soldiers running from a shady organization that wants to erase their memories and make them complacent, but I don’t feel like Rush was just teasing me by leaving me in the middle of the action. I do not have to curse her as I wait for future adventures for Sam and Anna.

Unfortunately Altered doesn’t come out for another couple of months, but I highly recommend picking it up if, like me, you have a thing for genetically altered super-soldiers kept in glass boxes by shady organizations. With engaging characters and a surprising story line, I’m happy to add the Altered series to the short list of books I anticipate their continuation.

 

I received an advance copy of this book via the Around the World ARC tours in return for an honest review. It has since been passed off to the next blogger on the tour.