The teenage years are fraught with insecurity, exploration, and rebellion – which happens to make them a prime backdrop for an exciting thriller. Throw in a dystopian landscape, some social study, and a unique set of characters and one just might be describing Spliced, the new novel from Jon McGoran.

The narrator of Spliced is sixteen-year-old Jimi Corcoran – a girl as unusual as her name. Right from the beginning, readers will feel a connection to Jimi and her typical growing pains: family issues, school concerns, and friendship (relationship) anxieties. She resides in an area roughly equivalent to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The American landscape of this near-future world is well developed with just enough familiarity to help orient the reader, but also clearly devastated by some poor environmental choices – some details of which are slowly revealed to the reader over the course of the novel.

Spliced is structured as a quest novel. Jimi’s best friend, Del – the first boy she has kissed – reveals that he wishes to be spliced. In this future world, people can choose to have their DNA mixed with that of an animal, thereby inheriting some of the features of that animal – both physical and physiological. Since this practice is viewed by much of society as an abomination, Jimi wishes her friend would reconsider. But when Del’s splice goes wrong and he disappears, Jimi knows that she must hunt him down in order to save him.

Meanwhile government factions are campaigning to pass the GHA (Genetic Heritage Act) which would mean that any individual without one hundred percent human DNA would be stripped of their rights. Readers will immediately connect this to our own real world battles – both historical and contemporary – in which various groups of minorities have been systematically denied their basic human rights.

What follows is an adventurous tale in which Jimi meets up with a group of chimeras (the official name for those that have been spliced) who assist her in the search for Del. It is to Jon McGoran’s credit that Jimi does not need saving herself – she is a confident, headstrong, and independent young woman who happens to recognize that in order to succeed on this mission, she will need the help of a loyal band of compatriots.

As in the real world, good and evil are not always as easy to distinguish as one would like. People – in this case both humans and chimeras – are always shades of gray. Much of Jimi’s journey is about learning this lesson, learning more about herself, and learning to trust her instincts.

Many of the concerns Jon McGoran has explored in his adult novels are again addressed in Spliced. Things like environmental factors, genetic modification, and government legislation are subtlety explored against the exciting tableau of this thriller. Things never get too heavy-handed, but it is vital that these serious topics are understood for the full ramifications of Spliced to be comprehended.

While it should be noted that the characters in Spliced choose to be “different” – more like modern day body modifications and tattooing, this concept of “otherness” will most certainly resonate with folks of the LGBTQ+ community (most especially transgender teens) as well. Because of that, it would have been nice to see a representation of that segment of the population within the story itself, but since this is the beginning of a series, and these characters are still young, that may yet come to pass in later books.

All in all, the complex world-building, original plotline, and compelling characters within Spliced will have readers hooked and eager to return for another visit to this near-future wasteland in which the meaning of humanity becomes much more than simply being human.

Order links: Spliced by Jon McGoran