Review by J.S. Colley
Note: I am acquainted with the author. I purchased this novel without the author’s knowledge.
Xenofreak Nation utilizes a thought-provoking and disquieting future possibility as a catalyst for great storytelling. The novel is set in the not-so-distant future where scientists have perfected the process of bioengineering animals in order to donate their organs for human transplant. A side result of this technology allows grafting animal parts onto the human body. Animal grafts have taken the place of tattoos as a means of self-expression. A group of society -- given the derogatory label of xenofreaks -- has taken this practice to a higher level and graft more than just tiny patches of animal skin; they also graft larger animal parts, like ears or claws. This new trend has usurped the original purpose for bioengineering animals. According to Henry Vega, a member of The Pure Human Society, humans are still on long waiting lists for organs because "the xenoengineers make more money producing animals for the perverted lifestyles of the xenofreaks! They make millions upon millions of dollars enabling these atrocities!"
The main story centers around two characters, Bryn Vega and Scott Harding, whose stories unfold in alternating chapters. Events bring them together and pull them along as Bryn tries to adjust to the unalterable changes made to her life and Scott tries to do his job. We learn that Bryn's father became involved with The Pure Human Society because his wife, and Bryn's mother, died after receiving a pig heart. The heart was bio-engineered to be compatible with humans, but at the time, the process couldn't account for the difference in the tissue aging process, and Bryn's mother died prematurely. Now he works obsessively against xenografts in general, and xenofreaks in particular. He believes that legalizing human tissue cloning will eliminate the unethical and disturbing behavior of this fringe group of society.
As a result of the narcissistic actions of her father, Bryn is thrown into a world very different than the sheltered life she has been living. This is where she meets Scott, a xenofreak and member of the infamous and dangerous XBestia gang. He is ordered by the gang's leader to guard Bryn. Soon, they are both equally confused by their feelings for one another. As the story moves forward, the two characters learn the truth about each other and, while their more immediate problems are resolved, their futures and the future of xenofreaks everywhere are still uncertain, which leaves room for their journey to continue in a sequel to the novel.
In real life, answers to questions regarding serious medical ethical issues are fuzzy, and so it is in this novel. At one point, Harry Vega says: "We're in an era capable of great medical advances but crippled by ethical debate." Yet the "bad" guys in the novel are people who have ignored ethics and misused technology. As a society, what are we to do? Should we allow anything simply because it can be done? Could human tissue cloning eventually lead to the same kind of abuse, some unintended consequence we never even thought of? What about the cloned animals? Whether their body parts are used for human recreational enhancement or as life-saving organ donations, is it ethical to use them in this way? In the story, a member of a radical animal rights agency is portrayed as both a good and bad guy; this is the way life really is. Nothing is ever black and white. This novel doesn't preach. The reader is left to decide on which side of the fence they fall, or if they sit squarely on it.
I would compare this book favorably to The Hunger Games. Both novels present a dystopian society and have young protagonist, but I find Xenofreak Nation has a more believable -- a more feasible -- future. And, while I have minor issues with a few of the premises in both novels, I was able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the stories.
Xenofreak Nation suggests a possible future I never considered. I found the premise very clever and the human story surrounding the ethical questions satisfying. A great read that also provides thoughtful content.