Monday, March 4, 2024

Book Review: Baby X

By Jami Denison

Author and bioethicist Kira Peikoff has followed up her medical thriller Mother Knows Best (reviewed here) with another thriller about how advances in genetic research will change parenthood. In Baby X, Peikoff swings for the fences, setting her book decades into the future and creating a world in which gene manipulation has taken over society. Although confusing at times, Peikoff succeeds at creating a believable future populated with characters that readers can identify with. 

In Peikoff’s brave new world, genetic manipulation has advanced to a point where any cell can be used to make sperm or eggs, and celebrities need to guard themselves from people who would steal their used tissues or even the air they breathe to create their gametes and make babies with them. And babies are no longer created the natural way; their parents have embryos made in the lab, then select the genetically best one for implantation. Three point-of-view characters grapple with the implications: Ember, who works as a “bio-guard,” shielding her celebrity clients’ DNA; Quinn, a surrogate mother, and Lily, a young adult embarrassed that she was “unforeseen” and wondering how she can get ahead at work while competing with “selected” colleagues. 

Baby X is a little hard to get into at first. While the opening scene is a bombshell, Peikoff then backtracks about a year, and the protagonists are introduced separately. Peikoff does so much worldbuilding in the beginning, explaining about current reproductive processes, the DNA stealing being used for baby-making, and all the other technological advances that have happened since 2023, that it’s easy to get lost in the details. A few chapters in, though, the characters become clearer and the book starts to hum. Ember falls in love with a client, but she has a stalker ex-boyfriend and a big secret about her past. Quinn starts to wonder if the widowed father who hired her to carry his embryo is lying to her. And Lily, embarrassed by her mother’s late-in-life pregnancy, delves deeper into her parents’ past. Peikoff adroitly juggles these characters while stressing the questions that make their dilemmas timeless: How to keep things private when everything is so public? How to compete when you feel you’re not good enough? How can we trust the people around us? Who has the right to make reproductive decisions for other people? 

While Peikoff goes heavy on the science, she includes the twists that readers of the thriller genre expect. Her ending is a masterpiece that ties all of her plot threads together. And while some of her details seem completely farfetched, there was one detail about the future that I hope comes to pass: Peikoff predicts that the United States will expand Medicare into a national healthcare system. I don’t want a world where every baby is made in a test tube, but Medicare for all is a future I’d endorse. It's too bad that, thanks to an Alabama court, we are closer to a future where IVF is illegal than one where health care is paid for by taxes. 

Thanks to Meryl Moss Media for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Kira Peikoff:

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