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Double Helix
Nancy Werlin

Publishing Information: Dial Books: Boston, 2004
ISBN: 0803726066/014240327X (PB)
Pages: 252 p.
Ages: 14 & Up

Eli has lucked into a job at Wyatt Transgenics - offered to him by Dr. Wyatt, the famed scientist. The salary is substantial, the work is interesting, and Dr. Wyatt seems to be paying special attention to Eli. It's almost too good to be true. Is there a catch?
Eli's father is vehemently against his taking the job but 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 he continues to work at the lab, and to spend time with Dr. Wyatt, he begins to uncover some disconcerting truths about himself - about his very makeup.
Rich and suspenseful, with a hair-raising conclusion, this is Nancy Werlin's most dynamic novel yet - one that explores the ethics and amazements of genetic engineering.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Death and Dying
Dysfunctional Families
Family relationships
Genertic Engineering
Huntington's Disease
Illness, Physical
Lying and Deceitfulness
Problem parents
Taking responsibility

Awards & Reviews:
BookList Editor's Choice, 2004
School Library Journal Best Books, 2004
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2005

BookList, February, 1, 2004, p. 975 (Starred Review)
School Library Journal, March p. 222 (Starred Review)

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Both Kayla and Eli are gifted athletes, extremely intelligent, and unusually attractive. Discuss some of the reasons why they might share these characteristics.
  2. Compare and contrast Dr. Wyatt's and Dr. Fukuyama's philosophies about genetic engineering, explaining which perspective makes more sense to you.
  3. After spending time with Wyatt and Kayla, Eli is unable to reconnect with Viv. Explain your perception of his state of mind at that point and why he reacted in the way that he did.
  4. Kayla grew up with knowledge about herself that Eli's parents kept from him. Discuss how you think having that knowledge affected her life and her relationships with Wyatt and Eli.
  5. Discuss how Eli's life might have been different had he grown up with the knowledge about himself and Wyatt that Kayla did.
  6. Viv and Eli disagree about the place that trust and openness play in a relationship. Explain both perspectives and discuss which one is more likely to enhance an intimate relationship and why.
  7. Compare and contrast Quincy Wyatt and Jonathan Samuels, discussing their philosophies of life, their ethics, and their relationships with Eli.
  8. The people in this book all believe that at one time or another their actions are moral and ethical. Choose the persons who you think were the most and least morally and ethically correct or appropriate, and explain why you chose them.
  9. Several people in this book go to a great deal of effort to keep secrets from each other. Discuss how lives would have been changed had some of those secrets not been kept.
  10. Share your philosophy about the ethics of creating human life in a laboratory environment. Will humans ever become their own creations?
  11. Examine the relationship between Eli and his father, and discuss how it changed at crucial turning points, for instance when Eli found the letter, when he decided to work for Wyatt Transgenics, when Jonathan met Viv, and several other situations.
  12. Genetic manipulation can take place in many ways, for many reasons. Discuss your own opinion about what is ethical and not ethical about this process, whether it is done with animals or humans.
  13. Viv, Eli, and Wyatt all discuss their concepts of what a human soul might be. Summarize and compare their ideas with your own, including why you do or do not agree with any of their ideas.
  14. Viv tell Eli several times to "Trust the universe. Everything happens for a reason." Explain what that means to you and whether you see life as purposeful and directed or random. Do you see life as ordered and sequential or chaotic?
  15. Speculate what the future will be like for Eli, Viv, and Kayla. Based on who they are at the end of the book, what will they be like and what will they be doing in five years? Ten years? Twenty?
  16. Choose the idea or ideas in the book that you are most interested in, that resonate with you the most, discuss them and explain why you chose them.
  17. This is a book that might be used in middle or high school classrooms for class discussions. In your opinion, why would it be appropriate or inappropriate in such a setting? What parts would be interesting or involving to discuss or debate? What parts would not?
  18. Explain why you changed and how you are different as a result of your reading this book. If you have not changed your ideas or opinions, explain why not.
Courtesy of

Related Websites:
Bloodlines: Technology Hits Home -
Graphic: Structure of DNA -
Human Genome Project -
Huntington's Disease Society of America -
Nancy Werlin Homepage -

Young Adult
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1946
Blueprint by Charlotte Kerner, 2000
Dr. Franklin's Island by Ann Halam, 2002
Eva by Peter Dickinson, 1989
House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, 2002 (2004 RITBA Nominee and Winner)
The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, 1934
Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson, 2005
Regeneration by Linda Joy Singleton, 2002 (first in Regeneration series)
Silver Eyes by Nicole Luiken, 2001
Saint Vitus' Dance by Jill Rubalcaba, 1996
Star Split by Kathryn Lasky,1999
Taylor Five by Ann Halam, 2004
Violet Eyes by Nicole Luiken, 2001
Virtual War by Gloria Skurzynski, 1997

Lake House by James Patterson, 2003
Mutation by Robin Cook, 1992 (and other titles)

Other Books by the Author:
Are You Alone on Purpose?, 1994
The Killer's Cousin, 1998
Locked Inside
, 2000
Black Mirror
, 2001

About the Author:
Nancy Werlin was born on October 29, 1961, in Salem, Massachusetts. She currently resides in South Boston.

The following information is from NoveList:
Nancy Werlin's prose has been described as hard-edged and realistic. Her novels are highly regarded for their well-plotted suspense, psychological realism, and vividly drawn characters. Werlin has also been praised for her sensitive treatment of dysfunctional families, teenage suicide, guilt, fear, and budding adolescent emotions that include sexual attraction. The principal characters in her novels tend to be bright youngsters from well-to-do and well-educated families.

The daughter of a computer engineer and homemaking mother, Nancy Werlin was encouraged in her early years to read. She read science fiction, history books, classical works, and even encyclopedias. At the age of ten she decided to become a writer. Although she regarded school as a waste of time, she did well academically and finished her formal education at Yale University with a bachelor's degree. Afterward she did technical writing for computer software companies and later worked for eighteen months in Germany before returning to Boston, determined to become a writer. A year later she completed the draft of her first novel.

Nancy Werlin's novels have won many awards. Are You Alone on Purpose? won the Publishers Weekly Flying Start Award; the American Library Association made the same book a Best Book for Young Adults selection and a Teens' Top 10 Best Book Pick. The Killer's Cousin won an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Young Adult Fiction and another for Best Young Adult Mystery. The novel was also selected as a Best Books for the Teen Age by the New York Public Library and was a Booklist Editor's Choice selection."*

*(Bernard E. Morris, Salem Press for EBSCO Publishing, July 2003)

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair