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I Still Have a Soul

by Mirriam Neal
419 pages, Suspense
Reviewed by Jeanne

A beautiful story of love and the sanctity of life, in a futuristic, semi-sci-fi setting.

Plot

Eva Stewart lost her parents to Morbus, the worldwide plague that killed millions and still haunts the survivors. Now, in 2053, she is a scientist in a remote WorldCure facility, where her obsession with finding the Morbus cure earns her promotion to the status of "Handler." She can now conduct experiments on her very own Subject, but her plans for the future are turned inside out when she discovers writing on Subject 13's cell wall: "I still have a soul."

Faced with a plot kept quiet by WorldCure, Eva is forced to come to grips with the truth behind her Subject, the facility, and herself.

Morality

The thematic drive of the story is a question of ethics. Everyone - including Eva, the other scientists, and the head of WorldCure - believe they are doing the right thing in using "deficient" people as test subjects while searching for the Morbus cure. In this futuristic setting, reminiscent of such historical facts as the Nazi concentration camps, the sanctity of life is explored.

Other themes include the search for and adherence to truth, the strength of love, and the pursuit of justice.

In her struggle to understand her Subject and the truth behind WorldCure, Eva does some justifiable lying to those who would silence both her and Mir (Subject 13). At one point she also lies to shield him from embarrassment. She attempts to make a bargain with God, which is shown to be incorrect.

Spiritual Content

As the story focuses on the sanctity of life, so it deals with the question of the soul. Eva is humanistic and agnostic, while her friend Professor Pock is a Christian; questions of religion, God, and Christianity crop up in their conversations. Bioethics and the question of evil are also addressed.

Violence

Guards describe how Subject 13 has broken from his restraints and killed various WorldCure employees in gruesome ways. They also handle him roughly, sometimes actually beating him. A character pummels Mir with brass knuckles.

Surgical procedures play a major role, particularly in the first half of the book; readers with weak stomachs are not likely to enjoy it, though it is in no way gory.

Eva is attacked and sustains cracked ribs and bruises. Several characters are shot and one is presumably killed. Electrocution takes place. A mass killing in the facility, though not graphically witnessed or described, is probably the most disturbing part of the violence.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Sedatives and mind-altering drugs are used on Subjects, as are experimental cures. Medical drugs play a major role in the story (it is a medical thriller), but addictions are not an issue.

Sexual Content

There is a romantic subplot and some kissing. It is, however, handled very well and is especially charming against the dark backdrop.

[SPOILER]

It is revealed that Subjects have been drugged and then bred, resulting in often handicapped children to be used as test subjects. A character lies about being the mother of one such child in order to shield someone else.

[END SPOILER]

Crude or Profane Language or Content

"B***er off" is used once. Guards in the facility are said to swear.

Conclusion

Fast-paced and thrilling, and with plot twists at every bend in the road, "Monster" blends theme and storyline to create a seamless novel. The emphasis on bioethics and the sanctity of life, rather than overwhelming the plot, form the plot. The characters are unique - including the professor, who provides humor without being mere comic relief - and the reader is pulled along on Mir's struggle for the right to be human.

Certainly the book has its dark stretches: the background of the Morbus plague and the horror of WorldCure's philosophy hardly make for sunshine and rainbows. But "Monster" is not fully and finally a bleak story, because it is also full of hope and the things that make life beautiful. Mir's childlikeness, contrasted with Eva's confusion and agnosticism, makes this beauty all the more evident.

A strange book in terms of genre, "Monster" really defies classification: it is at once a thriller, a science fiction, and a romance. Whether you shy away from one or all of these, if you have the stomach to handle the violence (and don't mind having your gut wrenched by the bitter-sweetness), it is a novel well worth reading.

Fun Score: 4.5
Values Score: 4.5
Written for Age: 13+

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