Monday, April 6, 2020

Review: The DNA of You and Me by Andrea Rothman

My sister is the scientist in our family. She's a vet with a Masters in Toxicology. I'm the English major who had to sit in the hallway for the duration of high school fetal pig dissection because I got hysterical thinking about cutting into Wilbur. But just because I am squeamish doesn't mean I'm not fascinated by science. Because I am. Just from a distance.  Especially if it requires dissection or euthanizing lab animals; I'm completely fine with sciences like geology though, one of my favorite subjects in college. And I do love to read about science and the amazing things that scientists are researching and discovering, what drives them to their field of study, the process of their work, and what it might say about us and our world. So Andrea Rothman's novel The DNA of You and Me was a completely engaging and wonderful read about the science world and one woman in it.

Emily Apell is a bioinformatician who has just received that call that she's won a very prestigious prize. As she processes the overwhelming news, she thinks back to what first set her on the path toward this major achievement. Growing up with her chemist father, she was steeped in scientific research quite young. And as an only child with a severe environmental allergy, her childhood was very much spent indoors not around other people so her social skills never quite developed the same way that others' did. Even in adulthood, she is incredibly socially awkward and she struggles to make connections with others. Moving to a prestigious new lab where she is looking for a gene or genes in the olfactory system that create a sort of smell map, she is both consumed by her research and intensely aware of fellow lab mate, Aeden, who, with his technician, is also looking for these genes. They might be in the same lab but they are definitely in competition with each other, at least until they are forced to work together and an antagonistic and bumbling relationship forms. But when tensions and hostility in the lab prove impossible, Emily must choose between the research she's dedicated her life to or the promise of a different life with Aeden.

The framing device of the impending award is well done as it leads Emily to look back a decade prior and wonder if her life could have been different, if it should have been different. Rothman has done a fantastic job creating in Emily a character who is afraid she doesn't have the emotional ability to connect with others that seems to come so easily to people around her. In fact, she is told by other characters, that she is distant and incapable of the depth of feeling that most people have, once as a compliment and once as a warning and insult. And yet this unemotional character feels deeply, absorbing hurt after hurt so that the reader has a lump in their stomach for her. She is so very alone, even in the midst of people. Told through Emily's eyes, Aeden is a far less sympathetic character, perhaps because she doesn't understand his motivations towards her as well as she understands her own position. Their relationship is not a give and take; it is as uncomfortable as the principals. They move from antagonism to emotionless sex, to something that is supposed to be more but that doesn't quite ever reach the richness to which it aspires. The atmosphere of the lab is well drawn, competitive to the point of being cutthroat, where even those driven by a desire to further science will resort to underhanded actions. The daily work, the diligence, the frequent failures, and the much rarer successes of a research lab weave through the narrative, driving the plot forward to its climax. The idea of isolating the genes that help us smell is completely fascinating and the sense of smell pervades much of the story thematically with Emily being acutely aware of smells and their role in her memories. There are many descriptions of the smell of her late father, Aeden's particular scent, a grad student's overwhelming perfume, the memory triggered by a peppermint, and more. Emily may be different but the reader feels for her deeply, for the little girl looking out at a world of people whose reactions are foreign and feel exclusionary and for the adult woman who still feels that way and tries to wrap herself in protective layers to avoid the hurt that she sometimes encounters as a loner. Emily is an atypical main character who really takes up residence in your heart. This is a poignant read about science and relationship, about whether some people are better suited to be alone, and the sacrifices that people make along their chosen paths framed within a story about a really smart woman in STEM.

For more information about Andrea Rothman and the book, check our her author site, follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree that some people are best suited to be alone. Not that they are alone, but some people really don't need (or like) a deeper connection with another human being. Thank you for being on this tour. Sara @ TLC Book Tours


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