From the moment that I picked up my copy of Charisma, I knew that this book and I were going to get along very, if not extremely, well. The heroine Aislyn is an exceptionally smart and sensitive sixteen year old. She also suffers from a devastating, crippling shyness--something that had plagued me throughout my teens. I could understand only too well the problem that she faced in the opening chapter, trying to get her point across only to be let down by her fears and then watching as the prize went to another student, whose ideas may not have been as advanced as her own, but who had the ability to communicate their ideas more effectively.
Then the novel takes a sinister twist ...
Dr Sternfield, Aislyn's mentor, is a brilliant scientist. She's also been developing a new drug, Charisma, which alters the DNA of users, to make them well ... charismatic. When Aislyn gets the chance to test the drug, she takes it, despite the fact that the tests are not strictly legal. The effects are instant. But slower to develop are some serious side effects, one that could cause death. And worse still, it seems that the symptoms are contagious ...
Charisma was an interesting--and smart--page turner with more than a dash of social justice. The parallels between Aislyn and that of teenagers who were HIV positive during the 1980s were quite interesting. (In fact, the narrative mentions Ryan White at one point.) I think the author got it spot on how people are treated when they are suffering a disease that most of the general population do not understand--with suspicion and fear, which ultimately leads to discrimination and intense public scrutiny. As I stated at the beginning of this post, I felt that I could really relate to Aislyn and her difficulties with shyness.
Like the best YA novels, Charisma asks some big ethical questions and places them in a setting that is easy to understand and relate to.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for supplying me with a copy of Charisma.