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Jessica Khoury’s second YA novel, VITRO, is a fast paced, death-defying, tropical adventure that will leave you wondering what scientific experiments are really taking place on those tiny islands in the Pacific.

When 17-year-old Sophie Crue receives a cryptic e-mail from her estranged mother asking for her help, she immediately rushes from Boston to Guam eager to finally learn the truth about her biologist mother’s scientific research on the mysterious Skin Island. However, upon arrival in Guam, her childhood home, Sophie discovers that getting to Skin Island will not be as easy as she thought. The island doesn’t seem to exist on any maps and the locals are full of superstitious tales about pilots who were threatened with death and told never to return. The only person willing to take the risk is the young, hotshot charter pilot Jim Julien, Sophie’s childhood friend from ten years ago. Jim tells Sophie he will drop her off but on no condition will he get involved with anything on the island; once Sophie is there, she’s on her own.

Khoury has created a vividly detailed setting --- Skin Island is a place of horrors and dangers that refuses to let you go.

However, when Sophie finally gets to Skin Island she discovers that it wasn’t her mother that sent for her at all, and now that she has arrived, she may never be able to leave. Sophie quickly realizes that Skin Island is not the site of an advanced research facility where work is done to cure genetic diseases like she always thought. Instead, it is something far more sinister. Scientists employed by the evil corporation Corpus --- including Sophie’s mother --- have taken test tube embryos and raised them into teenagers with knowledge and abilities far beyond human capacity. These embryos are called Vitros and Sophie gets the shock of her life when she finds a Vitro that looks just like her --- her twin sister, Lux. The Vitros have been created for a single purpose --- to serve their buyers unconditionally. They have no free will; it has been removed from their genetic makeup.

Sophie is horrified by what she learns and feels betrayed by her mother’s lies and deception, yet she cannot just walk away “because when you love someone that’s what you do­­­—you get involved.” Together Jim and Sophie must decide what part they will play and whose side they will take.

Once again Khoury has created a novel that explores the dangerous boundary between science and life. Told from three different points of view --- Sophie’s, Jim’s, and Lux’s --- VITRO leaps from one heart pounding moment to the next. Khoury has created a vividly detailed setting --- Skin Island is a place of horrors and dangers that refuses to let you go. Khoury’s writing style is crisp and to the point, and her characters are forceful and tough, although it is difficult to imagine such heartless adults. Mad scientists and dark conspiracies --- this is science fiction at its best.

Reviewed by Alice Dalrymple on January 7, 2014

by Jessica Khoury