Readers' Favorite

Featured Post

Reflections on the #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

December 26, 2018

Destiny By Design Trilogy by J. Andersen ~ a Series Review

by MK French

Today I have a review of the entire young adult science fiction trilogy from J. Andersen.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Book 1: The Breeding Tree 

The Breeding Tree
March 2017; Brimstone Fiction
978-1946758064; ebook, print (292 pages)
young adult, science fiction
Kate Dennard is selected for further training as a Creation Specialist, one of the teams of experts that will genetically engineer and watch over the offspring in the Institute. All genetic variation and mutation are to be removed from the human genome, which is a mantra she was raised with as the fourth generation living within the Institute. Seeing what that actually means is more difficult for her than she thought it would be, especially when she discovers that her genetic material was used to create a child without her consent, and is slated for destruction.

The foundations for the Institute sound reasonable at first: genetic modification to eradicate diseases, susceptibility to illness, cancer, and longer lifespans. It's taken to a much farther conclusion, however. Chips and barcodes assigned at birth track each citizen, and at exactly 120 years of life, the citizen will die. Any imperfection, no matter how slight, is to be eradicated, so that every male and female born within the Institute will have a regulated height and coloring. Intake, exercise, socialization and family time is all tracked and monitored, and the justice department and military are constantly on the alert for those that don't conform to the tight standards set. This leads to very subtle intimidation and fear laced throughout the populace, which Kate doesn't even consciously recognize is problematic at the beginning of the novel.

Because Kate is seventeen and a student, we are introduced to the tenets of the Institute slowly through her observations and interactions with her teachers, as well as with chapter epigraphs that are quotes from the code of ethics. It's clear from the outset that we're supposed to see the attraction between Kate and Micah, the teacher's assistant that has noticeable variation in his appearance. That variation is also how the author introduces the eventual desire for exact requirements in height, coloring, IQ range and the like. Those are woven into the observations and narrative, showing us how pervasive the beliefs are, even as Kate finds it creepy to be followed and observed all the time. It's a little more extreme than the beginning of the movie "The Island" or other utopias that actually dystopias, and possibly because the people here are complicit in this level of regulation and monitoring.

Kate, our entry into this world, is gradually exposed to the reality of the Creation labs, discarding otherwise healthy fetuses when there is a physical deformity or risk of a structural issue, no matter how slight. This sets up the conflict for her: remain complicit, or try to help the Natural Born Rebels, who are trying to save as many zygotes and fetuses slated for destruction as possible. Once this conflict is outlined, the novel progresses very swiftly. I was drawn further into Kate's dilemma than I expected to be, given how much she seemed to toe the line in the beginning. Considering the fact that she's only seventeen throughout this novel, I was impressed with what she was able to figure out and do, especially with how little information she is given about the reality of her situation.

This novel poses the question as to the worthiness of life, and how its value should be determined. Is it only with being a "functioning" member of society and producing whatever the higher-ups assign as worthwhile, or is it in emotional fulfillment? Do those with birth defects and injuries that make the Institute staff uncomfortable deserve to live? It's fairly clear where the characters' sympathies lie, and where the reader is supposed to side with. The ending to this story feels almost abrupt, though it is thematically complete, so I was glad to be reading the entire trilogy at once.

Buy The Breeding Tree at Amazon

Book 2: The Gene Rift

The Gene Rift
August 2017; Brimstone Fiction
978-1946758187; ebook, print (240 pages)
young adult, science fiction
Kate Dennard worked hard to win her freedom from the Institute but may have to risk it all in order to save Micah. That means making a deal with Saul and returning to the Institute, where only the perfect can live.

This novel picks up right after the end of the first one. Saul, the creepy soldier that thought of himself as Kate's potential boyfriend from the first novel, in chapter one outlines her escape from the Institute as a deliberate play to find the hidden location of the Natural Born Rebels. Now that we have chapters from his point of view as well as Kate's and Micah's, I find him repugnant as well as creepy. He cares little for others and only for his own advancement in the Institute, and willing to step over anyone and everyone that could possibly get in his way. There are uncomfortable decisions that Kate and Micah have to face in this novel, and I'm reminded that Kate isn't even quite eighteen. She's asked to balance the life of her son against that of Micah's, the needs of the Natural Born as well as those who are her family. This is a weighty dilemma for a teenager to face, and there is no right answer.

I was disappointed by the end of the novel because it seemed as though the medical issues brought up in the last third of the book were a deus ex machina to close out the story. I didn't like how the characters behaved, even though it fit their characters and the experiences they've had to that point. If anything, that's a sure sign that I'm a parent and an Actual Adult!

Buy The Gene Rift at Amazon

Book 3: Legacy's Impact

Legacy's Impact
September 2018; Brimstone Fiction
978-1946758224; ebook, print (276 pages)
young adult, fiction
Kate Dennard lives within the Institute along with her fiance but has no memory of anything that came before. This is unnerving, and soon she is confronted by the possibility that everything she had ever known is a lie.

The book picks up soon after the end of the second, and Kate is left in the dark regarding why she is stared at, why others won't speak to her, and even why her citizen ID won't let her buy food at the cafe. She has some inkling of the oddness around her and the stilted relationships that she has with people, and it all comes to a head when Micah works his way back into the Institute to try to spark her memories. There were a number of family revelations in the prior book that don't resonate with her now, but the revelations about Saul and Micah are definitely interesting for the reader. There had been a hint of something Not Right before, but it wasn't what I had thought it was going to be.

Some of the characters from prior books seem more stilted and like caricatures in this one, and they're used to up the ante in the drama. It's become even more life-or-death, and the full extent of the new chip upgrades is made clear here. It's not just a question of eugenics, but also thought control and behavioral control that is sought after in the Institute. (It's not a spoiler to reveal that, it was pretty obvious from the first book that this was an ultimate goal for the Institute.) Again, this is a rather weighty subject for teenagers to be grappling with so the reader can ponder their own views on the matter along with them.

Buy Legacy's Impact at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

Get even more book news in your inbox, sign up today! Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.


  1. I LOVE the look of each of these covers!!

    1. It definitely gives you a good feel for the futuristic aspects of the novels, and draws you in. The actual content of the books are good, too!

    2. I love these covers too! The artist captured the essence of each novel perfectly.