Sixteen-year-old Nate is a GEM—Genetically Engineered Medi-tissue created by the scientists of Gathos City as a cure for the elite from the fatal lung rot ravaging the population. As a child, he was smuggled out of the laboratory where he was held captive and into the Withers—a quarantined, lawless region. Nate manages to survive by using his engineering skills to become a Tinker, fixing broken tech in exchange for food or a safe place to sleep. When he meets Reed, a kind and fiercely protective boy that makes his heart race, and his misfit gang of scavengers, Nate finds the family he’s always longed for—even if he can’t risk telling them what he is.
But Gathos created a genetic failsafe in their GEMs—a flaw that causes their health to rapidly deteriorate as they age unless they are regularly dosed with medication controlled by Gathos City. As Nate’s health declines, his hard-won freedom is put in jeopardy. Violence erupts across the Withers, his illegal supply of medicine is cut off, and a vicious attack on Reed threatens to expose his secret. With time running out, Nate is left with only two options: work for a shadowy terrorist organization that has the means to keep him alive, or stay — and die — with the boy he loves.
This is a fabulous debut novel with so many elements to love. At the mention of Genetically Engineered Medi-Tissue, this science nerd’s heart sped up. I immediately wanted to know more about Nate and his world – and it’s not pretty. Every day is a struggle to survive – food and safe housing are scarce in the Withers, and Nate’s gang scavenges for everything they have. And his gang? Found family is one of my favorite tropes, and this band of scavengers grabs your heart early on and doesn’t let go. They’re also taking care of a Pixel, a young girl, and each of them would sacrifice their own life to keep her safe. Her relationship with Nate is one of my favorite aspects of this story.
Stakes are sky high with this group. Nate is dying a slow, painful death due to lack of Remedy, the drug that keeps GEMs alive. Alden, his supplier, is unable to obtain anymore. Their relationship is a complex one, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about Alden, but I think his heart is in the right place most of the time. Nate is withholding secrets that could end his freedom from his gang, but also make his friends’ lives easier. Violence is spreading throughout the Withers, and no one is safe. With seriously limited options, decisions are made that put all their lives in jeopardy. At one point, I thought there might be a sequel to this novel but was happy to discover it’s a standalone, and plot threads are resolved by the end. It wouldn’t have been a patient wait for the next book.
As a dystopian fan, I’ve read several novels in the genre. Something I missed in this book was more information about the conflict between Gathos City and the Withers. It’s touched on, but not really fleshed out. I initially thought it would be a primary source of conflict, but that’s not the case.
Fragile Remedy offers outstanding LGBTQ representation, a main character who’s an adorable cinnamon roll, a sweet, tentative first love relationship, and thought-provoking scientific elements. It’s also about sacrifices, making hard decisions, and fighting for your family no matter what.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.