Thursday, February 16, 2017

Code Red by Janie Chodosh - Book Review

Code Red: Faith Flores Mysteries (Book #2) by Janie Chodosh (Poisoned Pen Press, 2017, 250 pp, $10.95/7.99) tells a story about a precocious nearly seventeen year old girl from North Philly who's invited to spend a summer internship at the prestigious Salazar Center for Plant Genomics in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I don't often read YA (young adult) fiction any longer, and I don't remember what prompted me to order this title. However, as I read into this account first-person account of a gifted, nerdy, and troubled teenager, I found a story that might prove attractive to many readers in addition to adolescents. Years ago, when I was still an English teacher, I attended a presentation by Chris Crutcher, a leading writer in the genre. Someone asked him what differentiated YA novels from just plain straight ones. He said that the major difference lay in the length of the books. Perhaps this was a little too simple, but many books targeted at young people are written by skilled novelists who have engaging stories to tell and are worth reading. Count Code Red as one.

Faith Flores, her mother recently dead of an overdose and her father long absent, finds her successes and respite in science and technology, where she excels. She carries her past with her, while her massive intelligence, careful attention to detail, and sharp wit lead her into and out of potential deep trouble. When she arrives in Santa Fe, which she believes is her father's home, she discovers, much to her surprise, that she has a grandmother and two half-sisters. Her work at the SCPG involves learning to sequence the genes in a species of pepper that appears to be related to both very fine hot peppers and a deadly drug called “liquid gold.” She must learn to balance her work, an emerging relationship with a young violinist who's also in the program, and her newly discovered family, all of which begin to merge into both problems and opportunities. Meanwhile, the reader can watch Faith as she grows in both confidence and self-awareness.

Janie Chodosh (from her website)

“As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Janie majored in “all things interesting,” a list which included courses in biology, ecology, natural resources management, creative writing, and poetry. After college she moved to Yosemite National Park where she worked as a naturalist and educator and learned to rock climb, back country ski, and entertain herself with nothing more than a field guide, a trail, and a pair of binoculars. Later, as a graduate student in the University of Montana’s environmental studies program, the list of “all things interesting” expanded to include Spanish and environmental education. For her thesis, Janie traveled to a rural community on the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico to develop an environmental education program focusing on neo-tropical migratory songbirds (a fancy title for birds that breed in the north and winter south of the border). At age thirty, she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico to work as the education director for the state Audubon Society and later as a teacher.

Although Janie didn’t publish her first book until the secret age of somewhere past young, she has always been a writer. (If you don’t believe her just check out the boxes and boxes of stories, diaries, poems, plays, and random thoughts she has written since she could first hold a pencil). Janie is also a scientist wannabe, but since she realized she only liked to muck around in the field in cool places and would never actually be a scientist, she married one.”

In Code Red: Faith Flores Mysteries (Book #2) (Poisoned Pen Press, 2017, 250 pp, $10.95/7.99), Janie Chodosh has told a good story which emphasizes contemporary issues such as the risks and rewards of GMO's (Gentically Modified Organisms), how social and economic class and ethnic background influence opportunity, while shedding light on the developmental problems of adolescents, all in a package that makes the book attractive to teenagers and adults alike. It's a good read. I received the book in electronic format as an Review copy through Edelweiss. I read it on my Kindle App.

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