The videotape of my father was never meant to be seen by me, and were it not for a chow mix ripping off half my face, the man might have remained only a mysterious void. But it was that day when I was five, that day of growls and blood and pain and screams, when I first heard my father's voice.

Growls and blood and pain and screams! You may think this makes me a mean person (I realize that many, many people already think I am both mean and unprofessional for publicly discussing books I didn't like. But even meaner than I am already) but I read that bit and laughed. It's the "growls" that puts it over the top, I think.

Skip eleven or so years, and Mason is a huge, horribly scarred teenager living with his sad alcoholic mother, who comforts himself in times of stress by watching the videotape of his absent father reading a children's book. One day he finds that his mother used to work at the very, very mysterious local biotech company, TroDyn, which she always warned him away from. He barges into her hospital workplace to confront her. There he ends up playing the videotape for four mysteriously catatonic teenagers, which wakes up one of them. She is amnesiac and unnaturally strong, and convinces him to help her bust out of the hospital.

A sequence of rather unsurprising revelations about TroDyn's secret project occur. (Not only is it tipped off on page two with a lengthy discussion about the possibility of human photosynthesis, but the front cover blurb is THIS GREENHOUSE... GROWS HUMANS.) One guess as to who the terrifying "Gardener" turns out to be.

I generally like the genre of "teenagers with special powers flee the forces that created them," so it was execution rather than premise that disappointed me. Mason has no personality. Amnesiac girl has no personality. The surprises are very unsurprising. Amnesiac girl doesn't get to do much other than languish for lack of connection to her telepathically linked vegetative cohort. It's not a terrible book, but it's flat and unmemorable.

I was, however, amused by everyone's OMG THE HORROR and "why would anyone want to do that?!" reaction to the very concept of photosynthesizing humans. Growing people in a lab is admittedly creepy, but in terms of all the many, many possible powers you might generate that way, photosynthesis is one of the most obviously useful and least destructive ones.

By the author of The Compound, which I didn't read as the shocking twist seemed obvious from the premise alone:

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bodeen, acclaimed as the writer of such picture books as Elizabeti's Doll, turns out a high-wire act of a first novel, a thriller that exerts an ever-tighter grip on readers. Eli, the 15-year-old son of a billionaire techno-preneur, has spent the last six years with his family in the massive underground shelter his father has built, knowing that nuclear war has destroyed the world he knows—and killed his grandmother and his twin brother, who couldn't reach the compound in time. With nine years to go before the air outside will be safe to breathe again, the food supply shows signs of running out, but Eli's father has a solution—provided they jettison all morals and ethics. Repulsed and already suspicious, Eli begins investigating his father's claims, and sets up a family death match against a man who grows increasingly irrational and sinister but no less powerful.

Rachel: There's no nuclear war, everything's fine, it's all a creepy experiment. Right?

The Gardener

The Compound


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