cover image A Student of Living Things

A Student of Living Things

Susan Richards Shreve, . . Viking, $24.95 (246pp) ISBN 978-0-670-03758-2

One April morning in a near-future Washington, D.C., Claire Frayn and her brother, Steven, leave for George Washington University, where she is a biology Ph.D. student (and mother of three-month-old Asa), Steven is a law student with a penchant for writing op-eds and their father is a professor of medicine; aunt Faith works nearby in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. They leave their parents and extended family arguing over Steven's latest piece: this one bashes the DOJ's enforcement of the Freedom for Democracy Act. It is a salvo in the "civil war" (as Claire describes it) that churns as U.S. homeland security tightens, and paranoia reigns. Steven is shot dead on the library steps; that same morning, Faith is fired. Claire, steps from Steven when he dies, slowly resumes daily life and metamorphoses like the insects that fascinated her since childhood. With Asa's father out of the picture, she slips into a cloak-and-dagger scheme with an alluring stranger to coax Steven's killer back to town. Shreve, author of 12 novels and more than two score children's books, is parsimonious with the opening plot points, but once the momentum shifts forward, just try to put this book down. (On sale May 4)