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The DNA of You and Me is the story of scientist Emily Aspell as she looks back on her life and beginnings in the world of science just before she is about to receive an important award for her work in olfactory research. An award that summarises what her life has been all about, the points of no return and the choices made along the way.
“Smell is an illusion, my father used to tell me: invisible molecules in the air converted by my brain into cinnamon, cut grass, burning wood.” And so, it starts. Recently graduated, Emily moves from Chicago to New York to work in Justin McKinnion’s lab only to find out she is joining Aeden Doherty and Allegra Meltzer, a team conducting very similar research on the sense of smell. Aeden almost immediately tells Emily that she’ll need to find a new topic to research. Let the war begin!
It is here where Rothman, a scientist herself who studied neurobiology and olfaction, completely submerges the reader in the fascinating world of microscopes, test tubes, petri dishes and testing mice. She makes the world of scientific research exciting and accessible to the everyday reader. We witness tensions among colleagues, the fascinating lab politics, the pressure of conducting experiments and the need to get results ahead of rival labs. The novel brilliantly depicts the speed of the race for knowledge that has the improvement of human health at stake. I have no scientific background at all but the atmosphere in The DNA of You and Me felt real and I think that is a huge achievement.
It is no surprise that Emily and Aeden will move from colleagues to lovers. Their relationship is far from standard, and it is sometimes rather uncomfortable to witness. Emily has fallen for him but Aeden keeps the relationship secret, cold and detached. On their sexual encounters, Aeden performs some very questionable behaviour, leaving Emily constantly sad, hurt, confused, and feeling lonely. She is in love, but he is reluctant to take the relationship outside the lab’s walls. Is this your conventional love story? No. And the reason it’s not is Emily Aspell and what she represents as a female character. As the story progresses, Aeden is finally ready to take the relationship to the next level and settle down. But it comes at a cost. He finds a new job in a new lab away from New York and wants Emily to come along, to “Choose us”, as he puts it. In convincing Emily to go with him, there is a serious ethical breach involved that I will leave to the reader to discover. Emily chooses her work, her lab and to stay true to herself.
In recent years, we have been flooded with discourses stating the importance of empowering young women to take roles that are traditionally male dominated. Science is just the perfect example. In creating Emily Apell, Rothman is a step ahead introducing a character that truly reflects the life choices that women are making in today’s world. Emily is passionate about science and will eventually face the ultimate question of choosing career vs family life. I hope women reading The DNA of You and Me will be inspired by Emily’s character to take absolute control of their lives, to think big and find their place in the world. It’s ok to be unconventional and to not follow the path that society expects women to follow. It may be a road of tough choices, but it is ultimately a rewarding one.
A highly entertaining read with the bonus that you will learn a thing or two about research on the all-important sense of smell.
The DNA of You and Me is out now.