Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
I guess I should start by thanking the author for the free ARC. I was really excited when this book arrived – at the time, it had about a 4.6 rating. Since then, it’s dropped to a 4.37. It surprises me that it hasn’t dropped more.
Reading the summary, I thought this was going to be an awesome book. Kids are born with special abilities. They’re invisible, they’re mind readers, they can move things with their minds! The doctor who researches this stuff is accused of murdering his partner! Yeah, sounds pretty cool. If only the final product matched up to the description, maybe I could’ve given the book more than two stars.
It is an interesting premise. I can give it that. That’s about all I can give it, and the only reason I didn’t give it one lonely star.
From the very beginning of the book, the plot doesn’t make sense. First of all, how old is Dr. McKenna? Judging by the first few pages, he should be about 70. The man talks like a teenager. He shifts between using pseudo-intellectual language that he tries (unsuccessfully) to explain in layman’s terms and overexplaining the stupidest, most mundane things like sandboxes and science class. Second of all, how old are these kids? I thought they were ten years old, but they act like teenagers. Not only are they dating, but they take dissection classes (I don’t remember dissecting things in fifth grade) and watch documentaries on immigration reform (I’m pretty sure those started in late high school). That’s just the characters, by the way. Huerta often throws in very strange commentary. For example, he makes a comment about how a dog can’t see glow in the dark stars because dogs are colorblind. I wasn’t aware that colorblindness made animals unable to see colored things. My biggest issue, plot-wise, is the whole evolution/genetics thing. This “Alpha Gene,” as Dr. McKenna calls it, is present in a total of five children. That should make it pretty rare, right? Dr. McKenna attributes its existence to the brain finally doing something with that supposedly unused 90% (the good doctor is fascinated by the theory that we only use 10% of our brain). This is, according to him, something that happens spontaneously because of evolution. However, at the end of the book, he states that 30% of children are now born with this gene, and it’s expected to rise to 60% in the next generation. That is awfully fast for evolution. For reasonable evolution, we are looking at thousands of years before a new trait becomes common in the population, so I’m unsure whether Huerta to say that the new trait was inherited (so presumably the 60% comes from the children of the 30%, meaning that the trait was dominant, which also doesn’t make sense because then, logically, more than five children should have it) or whether he believes that evolution occurs over one generation. There are a lot of questions plot-wise, my main question being how Dr. McKenna, the third-person narrator, knows what’s going on in everybody’s head (and sometimes their bedrooms) at all times, including when he is mysteriously away.
My second issue was with the bullying topic. I didn’t like it. I thought it was out of place and unnecessary. These kids are supposed to be ten years old. Why are they constantly being threatened by bullies? Why are they fighting outside candy stores and having rumbles at school dances? Come on. The bullying did absolutely nothing to advance the plot. Sure, it made Peter look like a hero at the end, but it also made him look like a jerk through most of the book. (Speaking of, Dr. McKenna is an absolutely terrible teacher and authority figure given the way he handles bullying. At one point, the main bully flings a piece of dead frog into Peter’s mouth during “dissection class.” Peter, understandably, proceeds to vomit. Dr. McKenna givesPeter detention for this. What?)
Finally, my biggest qualm with the book is the persistent grammatical errors. I understand that English is Huerta’s second language. He has a very good command of it, and I likely wouldn’t notice anything if I were conversing with him. But in writing, I expect a higher standard. Here is a list of just a few of the mistakes I noticed: worse/worst, maybe/may be, an/and, were/we’re, its/it’s, looter/loiter. Sometimes even the names of the characters are written incorrectly (Luca/Lucas, Miss Smith/miss Smith), which leads me to believe that nobody even bothered to do a quick proof of the book before it was sent to print. Sometimes it seems that accents are used instead of apostrophes, and there are entire sections of the book where apostrophes are just left out altogether. This is the one thing I just cannot tolerate in a book. Yes, I got this book for free, but not everybody who reads it will. If you expect people to pay for your work, the absolute least you can do is get someone to proof it. You may not be a grammatical genius, and that’s ok. English may not be your primary language, and that’s ok. But your readers should not be able to tell by just casually flipping through your book.
I was disappointed by Alpha Gene. I had high hopes and it fell short in many ways.
Final rating: ★★☆☆☆