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The Gryphon Project by C. Mac

Mac, Carrie. The Gryphon Project. 2009. Puffin Canada. Print.

A lot happens in the first 6-page chapter. We are introduced to a small and suitably multicultural clique of teenage friends with cute nicknames: Phoenix (Phee); her slightly older brother Gryphon (Gryph); his buddies Saul, Huy, Tariq; Phee’s best friend Nadia who is also Saul’s girlfriend; and Nadia’s younger brother Neko, the tag-along clique mascot. Also, we meet Phee and Gryph’s seemingly bland background of a family - a mom who spends evenings going over work files, a United Church minister Dad, and a cute younger sister. The story begins with Phoenix lamenting the souring of her formerly idyllic relationship with Gryph. While she wonders whether his sudden change from “perfect big brother” to “just an asshole who lived in her house” is because of drugs, his major athletic sponsorship contract with the Chrysalis corporation, or just being a teenager, the reader might well wonder if this will just be another generic story of teenage angst and relationship drama holding little promise of creativity or challenging ideas. Fortunately, the last sentence of Chapter One catches our attention: “fifteen years ago tomorrow, Phoenix had died. For the first time… and the Chrysalis corporation had brought her back from the dead.”


The next 275-odd pages are certainly filled with a lot of the usual teenage concerns: why does my brother hate me? Does my boyfriend really love me? My little sister is really annoying sometimes. My parents just don’t get me, etc, etc. However, there is an underlying; not-so-far-fetched technological advance called “reconning” that adds a fascinating moral and ethical tension. Carrie Mac embeds this ability to bring people back to life so deeply into this fictional society that the reader only slowly realises the main theme of the novel is actually the exploration of how death affects the way we live our lives and how the sudden discovery of a way to cheat death might be handled.


Of course, the immediate thought is that eliminating death could be nothing but good – no more sorrow, no more angst about making mistakes, endless time to iron out mistakes in relationships. But would eternal life for everyone be desirable?  And if limits were necessary, who would decide on and then control those limits (e.g. a private corporation, churches, government)? How would our actions change if we knew we had three “recons” left or that we had been born into a segment of society where the so-called “importance” of our parents’ occupations dictated whether we were allocated three, two, one, or even no recons? How would we react if we suddenly discovered that our banal family in our boring suburb and our seemingly pointless education system was actually part of the privileged elite and a whole world of poverty, violence, and a lack of recons existed just kilometres away? Would having three deaths make us more curious about death and more willing to take on risk, or would we value life even more?


The surface story in The Gryphon Project is enthralling enough as Phoenix and Nadia slowly unravel the mystery of the older boys’ strange behaviour and ominous secrecy. The underlying theme, however, makes this a thought-provoking exploration into the meaning of life and how the sudden ability to override death would change us. I suspect many readers could enjoy this book just for the surface story of adventure but anyone who even occasionally gives thought to the meaning of life and social justice would really enjoy the additional and challenging layers.

Highly recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: David Sulz

David is a librarian at the University of Alberta working mostly with scholars in Economics, Religious Studies, and Social Work. His university studies included: Library Studies, History, Elementary Education, Japanese, and Economics. On the education front, he taught various grades and subjects for several years in schools as well as museums. His interest in Japan and things Japanese stands above his other diverse interests.