Double Helix

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Published by: Originally published by Dial Books/Penguin Random House, current edition by Nancy Werlin.
Release Date: 2004. 2021
Pages: 238



Eighteen year old Eli Samuels has just graduated from high school and lucked into a job at Wyatt Transgenics—offered to him by Dr. Quincy Wyatt, the legendary molecular biologist. The salary is substantial, the work is interesting, and Dr. Wyatt seems to be paying special attention to Eli.

Is it too good to be true? Eli's girlfriend doesn't think so, but his father is vehemently against his taking the job and won't explain why. Eli knows that there's some connection between Dr. Wyatt and his parents—something too painful for his father to discuss. Something to do with his mother, who is now debilitated by Huntington's disease. As Eli works at the lab, and spends time with Dr. Wyatt, he begins to uncover some disconcerting information—about himself.

Suspenseful and eloquent, with a hair-raising conclusion, Double Helix explores identity, intimacy, and the complicated ethics of genetic engineering.

Cover art by Rowan MacColl. 


Double Helix is a suspense thriller set in the contemporary world of biotechnology, and it's also a love story about Eli and his girlfriend, VIv—but it’s also a family story. In particular, it's a father-son story. And that, rather than in news stories about genetics, is where the novel had its start.
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“Werlin is a mistress of intelligent, imaginative mystery writing for the YA crowd, and Double Helix is as good as anything she's done.”
—Elizabeth Ward, The Washington Post

“Mesmerizing ... appeals to reason and love for humanity without resorting to easy answers. Brisk, intelligent and suspenseful all the way.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review, February, 2004

“A riveting story with sharply etched characters and complex relationships that will stick with readers long after the book is closed. An essential purchase for YA collections.”
School Library Journal, starred review, March, 2004

"With Killer’s Cousin (1998), Black Mirror (2001), and now this exciting book to her credit, Werlin has proved herself to be one of the best youth thriller writers working today.” —ALA Booklist, starred review, February, 2004

“A suspenseful exploration of love and bioethics.... Thought-provoking, powerful, and rich in character.”
Kirkus Reviews, January, 2004

“A tense medical thriller [that] raises fascinating ethical questions.”
The Horn Book Magazine, May/June 2004

“Mesmerizing ... much more than a mystery.”
The Sacramento Bee

“The pace here is fast and the problems ethically complicated. Likely to spark discussion.”
The Chicago Tribune

“Even if the only thing you know about DNA is that it's used to catch criminals on CSI, you must pick up this book.”

  • A School Library Journal Best Book of 2004
  • An ALA Booklist Editor's Choice for 2004
  • An ALA Best Book for Young Adults, 2005.
  • An ALA Booklist Top Ten Mystery for Teens, 2004.
  • An ALA Booklist Top Ten Science Fiction/Fantasy for Teens, 2004.
  • A Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Book Award nominee for 2005-2006.
  • A Virginia Young Readers list selection for 2005-2006.
  • A Texas Tayshas list selection for 2005-2006.
  • A Capitol Choice list selection for 2005.
  • Missouri Library Association Best of the Best list for 2004.
  • Michigan Thumbs Up Award finalist for 2005.
  • Indiana Eliot Rosewater High School Book Award list for 2005-2006.
  • Rhode Island Teen Book award list, high school division, for 2006.
  • Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers list, 2005-2006.
  • Kentucky Bluegrass Award, Grades 9-12 Master List, 2006.
  • Pennsylvania State Library Association Young Adult Top Forty Book List, 2004-2005: "Best science fiction mystery on genetic engineering in the tradition of Michael Crichton."
  • Maine "Cream of the Crop" List (Maine Regional Library System's Reading Round-Up Conference), 2005.
  • Missouri Gateway Readers Award, 2006-2007.
  • Michigan Reading Association "Great Lakes, Great Books" readers choice award finalist for 2007, grades 9-12.
  • Washington State Evergreen YA book award finalist, 2006-2007.
  • Vermont Green Mountain book award finalist, 2006-2007.
  • South Dakota Young Adult Reading Program recommended reading list, 2006.
  • An ALA Popular Paperback selection for 2006.
  • A New York Public Library 2005 Book for the Teen Age.
  • A Chicago Public Library "Best of the Best - Books for Teens" list selection for 2004.
  • A Junior Library Guild selection.
  • A Horn Book summer 2004 reading list selection.


PDF Discussion Guide

My new boss, Larry, looked at me. "Our work here is all about human protein development. Um—what do you already know about this, Eli, so I don't waste your time?" He was too nice a guy to add, Or mine.

"Pretty much nothing," I admitted. "Um—you probably know this—I'm just a high school graduate." I felt compelled to add, "I got this job as a—as a sort of favor, but I promise, I'm going to do my best here."

"Yeah," said Larry. "I'd heard that, uh, you were young." He gave me a sideways look. "You know Dr. Wyatt, I understand?"

I didn't know what to say. I half-nodded and half-shrugged.

"Lucky you," said Larry mildly. I still couldn't think of anything to say. I didn't have to, though. Larry nodded, shrugged, and then simply continued talking.

"Well, I'll give you some books and articles to read, but here's the short story. You know what ‘transgenic’ means? It's when an organism is altered by having a gene from another species transferred into it. Transgenic research involves studying organisms that have undergone this kind of manipulation. Clear so far?"

We had started walking again. I had a very unscientific urge to mention Spiderman, who had been bitten by a radioactive spider. X-Men. Behind that silliness was the same idea, I now realized—the transfer of genetic material. Transgenics. Perhaps the very key to the end of suffering that Dr. Wyatt had talked about. "I get it," I said.

But it was as if Larry had read my mind. "Take the Swamp Thing. You know him? Half-plant, half-man?"

"Yeah," I said. I added, gravely: "It was a terrible accident in the lab."

"It's always a terrible accident in the lab." Larry placed a hand over his heart. "Or sabotage." He grinned. "But hey, Eli, did you read the issue where we found out that wasn't quite what happened?"

"To tell you the truth, I just saw the movie. Years ago."

We had reached our own home lab, on the east side of the building. Larry waved me through the doorway.

"Well, get this. Turns out Dr. Alec Holland actually died before he fell into that swamp. His corpse decomposed and got eaten by the swamp plants at the bottom. The plants absorbed the super-growth plant formula and the plants became intelligent. They actually figured out how to mimic a human body in plant form. The plant creature thought it was Dr. Holland! So, Swampy isn't a man who's turned into a plant. Swampy's a plant that tried to become a man."

"Vive la difference," said a dry voice behind us.

"Uh, Mary Alice," said Larry. "I was just explaining our research to Eli. Swampy came up in passing."

"He always does." Mary Alice directed my attention to the far wall. Above a computer desk hung a Swamp Thing poster, meticulously matted and framed. On it, a giant leafy hand was emerging from murky water; above that were the words: Too intelligent to be captured. Too powerful to be destroyed.

"So much weirder than Batman," murmured Mary Alice.

Larry practically choked. "Mary Alice, listen, you don't understand this and you never will, so stop trying. Batman has no genetic enhancements. He's just plain psychotic."

Mary Alice rolled her eyes. "Sorry.".