Deadly Design

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Deadly Design Book Poster Image
Designer genes drive suspenseful sci-fi thriller.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Deadly Design raises interesting questions about the ethics of genetic manipulation and gives a glimpse of the tools that eventually might be used to achieve it. The technology used in the book is theoretically plausible, but it's not yet likely to be employed as easily as described.

Positive Messages

It's unwise to spend too much time comparing yourself with others. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. The quest for perfection is often dangerous.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kyle feels resentful toward his older/twin brother, tired of being compared to someone so bright, handsome, and charming. After Connor dies, however, Kyle learns to appreciate their differences. In the quest to unravel the medical mystery, Kyle discovers his own reserves of bravery, tenacity, and endurance.


A few violent scenes, but they're mostly understated. A bad guy is struck and killed by a car. An innocent bystander is shot to death. In a shootout, a number of villains are shot, and one main character is wounded.


Kyle and Cami flirt, kiss, and cuddle before eventually initiating an intimate physical relationship. They're respectful of each other, and the details of their sex lives aren't given.


More than a dozen uses of "f--k" and its variants. "Hell," "damn," and "s--t" are used almost as often. "Bitch," "bastard," "ass," "pissed," "a--hole," "bulls--t," and "d--k" occur once or twice.


iPhones, iPods, Facebook, various video games (Call of Duty).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brief scene of underage drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Deadly Design is a modern-day medical thriller about genetic manipulation. After his older twin brother dies suddenly of heart failure, 16-year-old Kyle begins to worry that he might be in danger. His sleuthing leads to a medical conspiracy nearly two decades old. Strong language includes more than a dozen uses of "f--k," "hell," "damn," and "s--t," plus less frequent uses of "ass," "d--k," "bastard," "bitch," and "pissed." There are a few violent scenes, and later an innocent bystander is killed and various villains engage in a shootout. Kyle and his girlfriend Cami start out as friends, but they eventually develop a sexual relationship, the details of which are not described.

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What's the story?

Even though they were born two years apart, Connor and Kyle are identical twins, Kyle having been kept frozen as an embryo for a couple of extra years. Everything comes easily to brilliant, handsome, motivated Connor, and Kyle resents him for his good grades, athletic ability, and beautiful girlfriend. But when Conor suddenly dies of heart failure, Kyle launches a quest to discover why it happened. Gradually, he learns that his own life is in danger -- that the genetic time bomb that claimed Conor's life is ticking down his own life expectancy.

Is it any good?

The dangers of genetic manipulation drive this suspenseful medical thriller. Author Debra Dockter sets up an intriguing scenario and follows it to its satisfying, action-packed conclusion. And there are plenty of plot twists along the way. DEADLY DESIGN raises fascinating questions about the ethics of tampering with the human genome, even if it plays a little fast and loose with how far the technology has progressed at this time.

The relationship between Kyle and his girlfriend Cami develops in realistic and sensitive fashion, free of the needless drama that sometimes afflicts couples in similar books.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the possible advantages and dangers of genetic engineering. Which precautions should be taken so the technology is not misused?

  • How is Deadly Design different from or similar to other medical thrillers you've read? What makes a successful thriller?

  • What does it feel like to be constantly compared to a sibling? How can a person assert his or her individuality without causing disruption in the family?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love science fiction and thrillers

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