Getting Altered: Genetic Experimentation and Freaky Science in YA

Inspired by a recent tweet of Jessica Khoury’s, which posed the question why does there seem to be a rise in the number of ‘freaky science’ YA novels, we got to thinking… Firstly, that Freaky Science is a brilliant category title which should immediately be a section in all bookstores and added to Amazon’s list of categories. Secondly, that’s a really great question.

Here’s our take:

The possibilities of genetic experimentation have always been flowing through popular culture (The Fly, Jurassic Park), and they’ve particularly been in the air since 1999, when scientists first mapped the human genome. But recently, as observed in the great post that Khoury was referencing, it seems to be exploding in YA.

So why now?

Because YA hasn’t fully gone there yet. It’s still relatively unexplored, fertile territory. It’s a new planet, ready for our Curiosity rovers. And no one loves new planets like a YA writer.

Fiction is a beautifully insatiable hungry beast, always looking for the new. And YA is like fiction on steroids. And probably a couple of Red Bulls. That’s why YA is so damn great: it searches out the new and finds endless ways to use it, expand upon it, and mash it up with something else. It dives into the wonderful depths between genres and returns to the surface with tales of wonder. YA writers are, at their core, pioneers.

Genetic engineering and experimentation is basically a fantastic metaphor for YA. There are those in the industry who can get stuffy about genre/category boundaries. But as Donald Maass said last year, genre is dead. YA writers laugh in the face of boundaries. YA writing loves to combine the DNA of multiple genres to create beautiful, unique creatures. And let’s face it, if we “behaved” and didn’t break the genre rules, there would be no Buffy, no Firefly, no Doctor Who. Species survive by evolving, by changing their DNA. Literature is no different; and YA is the thrilling, defining example of that.

So bring on the genetic experimentation YA — it’s not just a metaphor for everything we do as writers, it’s also an extraordinarily rich source of creative potential. Just like life itself, there are endless possibilities.

We can’t wait to read all of them, starting with Khoury’s own Origin!

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