by Sandler, Karen

Kayla and Mishalla, two genetically engineered non-human slaves (GENs), fall in love with higher-status boys, discover deep secrets about the creation of GENs, and in the process find out what it means to be human.

Advanced genetic engineering and upsettingly plausible caste oppression keep pages turning in this futuristic science fiction tale.

The planet Loka was originally settled by humans fleeing Earth, but now part of the population is made up of Genetically Engineered Non-humans. GENs rank lowest socially, destined by the Infinite to serve trueborns. They're vulnerable at any moment to painful uploads (via facial tech-tattoo) into their brain and nerves or, worse, resetting—erasure of their consciousness so their body can be recycled. Teenage Kayla awaits her service Assignment with trepidation; she could be sent across the continent and never see her nurture-family again. Surprisingly Assigned to care for an elderly high-status trueborn (aren't Kayla's genetically enhanced super-strong arms geared for heavy lifting?), Kayla stumbles into forbidden friendship and baffling information that threatens her basic beliefs. Sandler tinkers with race issues, making high-status trueborns "the perfect color, a rich medium brown," with lower-status humans and GENs either paler or darker. None of the three third-person-limited narrators have particularly distinct voices, but that's OK: The prose is clear, though sometimes unpolished, and two underground movements—one evil, one righteous—provide plenty of charge, as does the exposure of Loka's corrupt back story. A late revelation somewhat undermines the everyone's human message, more through textual clumsiness than intention.

A good option for science-fiction fans interested in genetic engineering, rebellion and class issues. (Science fiction. 13 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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