Sunday, April 10, 2011

Nobel Genes by Rune Michaels

Nobel Genes by Rune Michaels is the story of a young boy whose mother has always told him he was conceived using sperm from a bank of Nobel Prize Winners. He doesn't know who his father is, but he has always felt the immense pressure to live up to him. When he learns this is a lie, he faces even bigger questions about who he is, and whether that lie was meant to cover up an extremely dark truth.

I was initially interested in this book because of the word "genes" in the title- genetics is my field of study and I am always excited when I see it incorporated into a book. In reality, Nobel Genes has very little to do with genetics from a scientific perspective and is more about what our identity really is, and how is that defined. Not knowing who he really is from a genetics perspective, the narrator instead asks:
"Does it matter who my dad is?
Mom has taught me genes are important. Half of what I am came from my dad. But he came from his parents, and they came from their parents, and so on back through the ages, all the back to the primordial soup I read about in the cosmology book.
That’s how I must think of it. I came from a puddle of mud back at the beginning of time. everybody did."
Although the main character is nameless and ageless, he appears to be quite young from the narration voice. In fact, the way he speaks, as well as the serious themes- mental illness, alcoholism, suicide- the novel address often reminded me of Room by Emma Donoghue. Like Room, the narrator in Nobel Genes has a child-like confusion over what is going on. Near the beginning of the book he says:
"Mom can’t understand why, why my Nobel genes aren’t showing themselves. She says she can’t understand why my phenotype doesn’t correspond better with my genotype. That sounds really weird, but it means she can’t understand why I’m not what I’m supposed to be."
Clearly this is a huge expectation for the boy to live up to, and it's no wonder he struggles under the pressure especially considering that his mom is quite ill. I did find this aspect of the book interesting, however it should be noted Nobel Genes was written with a young adult audience in mind while Room was technically written for adults, so the writing is even simpler and at times seemed to verge a little on silly. That said, I was finding Nobel Genes quite interesting until it turned out the major revelation of the book comes through a dream, whose validity the narrator doesn't even bother to question and it seems as if the reader is not supposed to either. It did make sense, but having the boy learn it through some kind of shared dream seemed both lazy and at odds with the realistic fiction in the rest of the novel.

Overall, Nobel Genes was not what I expected, but that wasn't my major problem with it. Nobel Genes is an interesting young adult book that deals with very serious issues, but by having key plot points revealed through a dream without any real evidence it ended in a way that gave up believability for an easy way out that did the rest of the novel a disservice. 

Release Date: August 10th, 2010
Pages: 181
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book


  1. I was very intrigued by this book when I read the beginning of the review, but once you mentioned that dream part, it did make me stop wanting it. It does sound like it was being very inconsistent with the fact that this novel was about the truth.

    But great review, as always!

    Brush Up On Your Reading

  2. I haven't read this one, but I have read Room, and it has definitely stuck with me. The idea that Nobel Genes focuses so much on dreams definitely sounds like a turn off. I think subject matter like this is more effective when portrayed in a believable way (even if told through the viewpoint of a child.) Great review!


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