Review: Charisma by Jeanne Ryan - The high price to pay for popularity

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Charisma by Jeanne Ryan
Released: 1st December 2016
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Genre: YA Thriller
Source: Publisher
Pages: 372
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
An edge-of-your-seat thriller from the bestselling author of, Nerve, the book behind 2016's hottest YA film, starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco & Juliette Lewis.

A chance at the ultimate makeover means deadly consequences... Aislyn suffers from crippling shyness - that is, until she’s offered a dose of Charisma, an underground gene therapy drug guaranteed to make her shine. The effects are instant. She’s charming, vivacious, and popular. But strangely, so are some other kids she knows.

The media goes into a frenzy when the disease turns contagious, and then deadly, and the doctor who gave it to them disappears. Aislyn must find a way to stop it, before it's too late.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

We live in a society full of different personalities. Some are the life of the party, possessing the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone and exude that general air of confidence in whatever they do. Others however can experience the opposite, and like Aislyn in this book suffer crippling social anxiety. Then of course, there is the whole range of in-between on the introvert/extrovert spectrum; though the question posed in this novel is - who would want to be the 'average' level of sociable when you can be the star? Charisma is a quick read which does go some way in exploring the controversial topic of gene therapy and its implications, as well as the importance of finding other ways to be yourself; and own it. 

Who'd have thought I'd hang out with folks from the Nova Genetics teen group, with at least two of us acting way more extroverted than usual? And way happier. Thank you, Charisma.

Before learning of Charisma and how it could supposedly improve her life, Aislyn is no stranger to the opportunities which gene therapy creates. Her brother Sammy with cystic fibrosis is a regular visitor to Nova Genetics and Dr Sternfield, where it is hoped that he'll be accepted into a new clinical trial for a drug that could be the cure. So, when she learns of a top-secret trial from Sternfield which involves the 'CZ88' drug 'Charisma', she boldly takes the chance. However, with a drug previously untested on humans before the risks are high, and when her friends Rosa, and even party-boy Shane seem to have also taken it and are experiencing side-effects, Aislyn may just be second-guessing herself. 

While I did find some parts of the plot a little too predictable, and the trope of 'trying to get popular to win over the nice cute guy who would never like me otherwise (even if he does already)' somewhat cliche, I could appreciate the fast pace of the story. I also hadn't read any YA novels which had this focus on gene therapy before, and the author's notes at the end did reinforce the possibilities of where more research into that area will take us in reality. In an age where especially in the realm of social media there is a silent competition to see who really does 'have it all' - the most friends, the witty comments, and perfectly worded captions, this book provided a glimpse into the dangers of going too far to reach that level of fame. 


In all, though it wasn't a perfect read for me, Charisma is still worth trying for its glimpse into a controversial topic, and the importance of having a good support network to ultimately feel comfortable in your own skin.