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Novel Science

Authored By: 
Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez, Science Teacher

Are you tired of a summer reading list filled with Chaucer’s medieval English and Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter?  While these books are very important to your educational development, they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and they might leave you yearning for something a little more interesting or relatable.  How about delving into the world of YA (Young Adult) fiction where tales of the future, romance, mythical beings and science fiction abound.

Why am I, a woman flirting with 40, touting the benefits of YA fiction?  I don’t have a weird fascination with everything vampire, nor do I want to relive those teenage hormone infused puppy love days.  I am a science teacher who has found that several of today’s YA authors have, I hope, knowingly realized the impact they can have on our future generations and are making an effort to get the science right.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when movies or TV shows aren’t scientifically accurate.  “Hearing” a spaceship’s engine roar, Lois Lane falling 40 stories into Superman’s arms and not breaking her neck from the impact,  and surgeons saving patients with enough epinephrine to kill an elephant are just a few examples of the types of scenes that elicit a groan and eye roll, subsequently ruining the rest of the movie for me.  You’re spending how much on making this movie?  Hire a science advisor, for goodness' sake!  Thanks to Stephenie Meyer and the Twilight series, I feel I will forever have to explain to students during our animal behavior unit that imprinting is not when a Quileute werewolf finds its soul mate, but the type of learning that can occur in newborns when they form that all-important parental bond.

Veronica Roth and Ally Condie are two YA authors who thrill the scientist in me.  Veronica Roth is the author of the Divergent series and Ally Condie wrote the Matched trilogy.  Without giving away too many spoilers, both authors describe a post-apocalyptic Earth trying to rebuild after wars and resource depletion have ravaged the planet.  The Divergent series has Earth’s destruction caused by genetic engineering.  A well-meaning, government-sponsored group of scientists is trying to fix the devastation caused by human testing.  Their methods may not be ethical, but they certainly follow the scientific method and value large data sets.  For you conspiracy theorists, the idea of injectable neurotransmitters used for mind control can be a little scary. The Matched trilogy immerses you in a story where societal control is rocked by an uprising.  As society leadership struggles to maintain control, a biological weapon threatens to wipe out the population.  Not to worry, there is a cure, but no one thought about the possibility of mutation.

Both of these trilogies are a great read after you’ve taken at least a year of Biology.  An understanding of the scientific method, Mendelian genetics and viruses thoroughly enhances these reads.  It’s comparable to how your experience of watching Friends, 30 Rock, Seinfeld and Sex in the City is completely different if you actually live in New York City.  These shows are chock full of inside jokes that just cannot be understood by anyone living outside of our little island.  Science teachers are often asked, “When will I ever use this information if I don’t plan on being a doctor?”  I now have a new response to these moans. “To enhance your summer reading my dears.” 

Studies have shown that students fail to retain a small percentage of the progress they’ve achieved during the school year over the summer.  It’s a true case of- if you don’t use it, you lose it.  So as you take in the sun on the beach this summer, why not choose a book that will enhance what you’ve learned this year?  FYI, these reads aren’t all serious science.  The feisty heroine with two love interests who appreciate her individuality, strength, and intelligence will keep you turning pages and reaching for the next book in the trilogy!