The best books that prove DNA sucks at keeping secrets

Who am I?

The Complete Book of Aspen is based on my DNA experience. I was crushed after taking a DNA test to learn that the man who raised me was not my biological father. It rocked the foundation my life was built upon. Suddenly I was struggling with my identity, wondering why I am who I am. This led to a deep dive into DNA-related books. I read everything I could, from DNA science to memoirs to novels whose characters were affected by DNA discoveries. I liked seeing how these brave souls handled their heartbreak. Not only is the subject fascinating, but it’s also comforting to know, fictional or not, that we're never alone.


I wrote...

The Complete Book of Aspen

By Danna Smith,

Book cover of The Complete Book of Aspen

What is my book about?

When Aspen’s best friend gives her a DNA test kit, a half teaspoon of spit is all it takes to discover her entire life has been a lie.

Learning that her beloved late father was not her biological father—and that her mother had deceived her—ignites a wild storm of emotions. Aspen struggles with her identity and the burden of being the gatekeeper of this closely guarded family secret. When her mother refuses to reveal her biological father’s name, Aspen sets out on a courageous journey to find him. A heartbreakingly hopeful young adult novel-in-verse by award-winning author and poet, Danna Smith, based on her true DNA experience. 

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The books I picked & why

Clap When You Land

By Elizabeth Acevedo,

Book cover of Clap When You Land

Why did I love this book?

I’m fascinated by the stories of DNA secrets that unite, confuse, and complicate lives. Camino Rios and Yahaira Rios had no idea they shared the same father—until he perished in an airplane disaster. Told in verse with alternating viewpoints, this novel drew me in right away. Camino Rios had her father every summer while Yahaira had her father the rest of the year, both living very different lives—until their father’s death changed everything. Suspense builds as the two girls follow clues to the shocking realization that they are sisters. Once I started reading, I could not put the book down. 

By Elizabeth Acevedo,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Clap When You Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The stunning New York Times bestselling novel from the 2019 Carnegie Medal winning, Waterstones Book Prize shortlisted author of THE POET X. 2020 Goodreads Choice Award Winner of CLAP WHEN YOU LAND.

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people...

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal's office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a…


Double Helix

By Nancy Werlin,

Book cover of Double Helix

Why did I love this book?

A young adult novel that is part thriller, part love story, and part family drama. I love all three! But a book steeped in Biotech? I wasn’t sure. When a friend recommended Double Helix, I took a chance and was pleasantly surprised. Eli “lucks” into a job at a biotech company which his father is vehemently against. He doesn’t say why, but Eli assumes it has to do with a dislike for Eli’s new boss and his mother’s medical condition (Huntington’s Disease). The job comes with a big salary and even bigger secrets. Note to Eli: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is! Although the story got a bit “techy” for me at times, it’s a page-turner with a solid plot and unexpected twists.  

By Nancy Werlin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Double Helix as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eighteen year old Eli Samuels has just graduated from high school and lucked into a job at Wyatt Transgenics—offered to him by Dr. Quincy Wyatt, the legendary molecular biologist. The salary is substantial, the work is interesting, and Dr. Wyatt seems to be paying special attention to Eli.

Is it too good to be true? Eli's girlfriend doesn't think so, but his father is vehemently against his taking the job and won't explain why. Eli knows that there's some connection between Dr. Wyatt and his parents—something too painful for his father to discuss. Something to do with his mother, who…


Book cover of Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

Why did I love this book?

Like DNA, I can’t keep a secret…until I picked up Inheritance, I had never read a memoir. I learned about the book from a friend in my DNA support group who raved about it. The author took a DNA test on a whim and suddenly found the bottom falling out of her world as she knew it. She became a detective as she followed clues and uncovered a long-kept sperm donor family secret. The author writes candidly about her struggles, questions the DNA test results raised, and meeting her biological father. Written in lyrical prose, Dani Shapiro invites you on her rollercoaster DNA journey. Take a seat and get ready for a beautiful and compassionate telling.

By Dani Shapiro,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Inheritance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the acclaimed author of Inheritance and host of the hit podcast Family Secrets: a memoir about the staggering family secret uncovered by a genealogy test, an exploration of the urgent ethical questions surrounding fertility treatments and DNA testing, and a profound inquiry of paternity, identity, and love.

“Memoir gold: a profound and exquisitely rendered exploration of identity and the true meaning of family.” —People

In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had casually submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her beloved deceased father…


Strangers We Know

By Elle Marr,

Book cover of Strangers We Know

Why did I love this book?

Imagine this. You were adopted as a child. You’re now an adult with a medical condition. So, you take a DNA test to find blood relatives who could shed some light and family history on your disease. But you get the shock of your life when an FBI agent shows up and tells you they received your test results too and you are related to a serial killer! Ivy’s life spins out of control as she travels to meet her relatives and find a killer. Ivy is told that her mother was murdered by The Full Moon Killer and now she is getting too close…could she be the next victim? A chilling novel with lots of twists that left me thinking if I were in Ivy’s shoes, just this once, I’d rather DNA kept secrets.

By Elle Marr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Strangers We Know as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The search for a serial killer leads a woman into the twisted tangle of her own family tree in a chilling novel by the #1 Amazon Charts bestselling author of The Missing Sister and Lies We Bury.

Adopted when she was only days old, Ivy Hon knows little about her lineage. But when she's stricken with a mystery illness, the results of a genetic test to identify the cause attract the FBI. According to Ivy's DNA, she's related to the Full Moon Killer, who has terrorized the Pacific Northwest for decades. Ivy is the FBI's hope to stop the enigmatic…


The DNA Book

By DK, DK,

Book cover of The DNA Book

Why did I love this book?

With DNA testing becoming increasingly popular in millions of households these days, children are being exposed to the topic at an early age. The author does an excellent job at describing the concept to kids (and to adults, if you are like me, because let’s face it, DNA science is complicated!). With a mix of bold illustrations and photos, we learn what DNA is, how it is responsible for who we are, how we can catch criminals with DNA, genetic engineering, and much more. There are no guesses. No fables. No secrets. Just easy-to-understand facts wrapped in a colorful package. There is something refreshing about that.

By DK, DK,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The DNA Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book introduces children ages 7-9 to the amazing science of DNA, genetics, and what makes you you.

It's inside every living plant and animal, from the tiniest seed to the person standing next to you, but how much do you know about DNA? This book gives children an in-depth look at DNA and its role in all living things--from why we have different-colored eyes to why we age. Discover what DNA is, what it does, and how it shapes our lives, including inheritance and why we look like our parents; forensic science and how DNA evidence helps catch criminals;…


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One Giant Leap

By Ben Gartner,

Book cover of One Giant Leap

Ben Gartner Author Of The Eye of Ra

New book alert!

Who am I?

I love to read a good action-adventure story. I’ve also written a few. And I know that no matter how high the stakes, if there’s no heart in the characters then there’s very little engagement to make it any more memorable than a temporary thrill. I love thrills, but the stories that stick with you after the excitement of the moment is over, those are the true gems. Besides the fun of reading that type of book, maybe you even learn something about yourself or the world and come out a wee bit wiser than when you went in. And isn’t that a fantastic use of our imaginative powers?!

Ben's book list on new action-packed middle grade with heart

What is my book about?

I’m pretty sure I’m about to die in space. And I just turned twelve and a half.

Blast off with the four winners of the StellarKid Project on a trip to the International Space Station and then to the Gateway outpost orbiting the Moon! It’s a dream come true until space junk collides with the ISS, turning their epic trip into a nightmare of survival. Alone aboard the Aether starship, the kids have to work as a team to save the adults before the ISS is destroyed. Suit up, cadet, and launch into adventure with One Giant Leap!

By Ben Gartner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Giant Leap as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

I’m pretty sure I’m about to die in space. And I just turned twelve and a half.

Blast off with the four winners of the StellarKid Project on a trip to the International Space Station and then to the Gateway outpost orbiting the Moon! It’s a dream come true until space junk collides with the ISS, turning their epic trip into a nightmare of survival. Alone aboard the Aether starship, the kids have to work as a team to save the adults before the ISS is destroyed. Suit up, cadet, and launch into adventure with One Giant Leap!

Praise for…


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