Publication Date: February 28, 2023
A timely exploration of bodily autonomy set in a classic medical thriller
Calla Hammond has always been a loner—a product of the foster system and avoided by others because of a skin condition. When doctors discover her immune system holds the key to curing cancer, she struggles to advance lifesaving research in a world that sees her only as a means to an end. Yet along the way, Calla gains the one thing she has always longed for: a chosen family.
When a group of unscrupulous people join forces to sell Calla’s blood to the highest bidder, she digs deep to find the strength to retake control of her life, her body, and her story.
The Panacea Project is a layered examination of self-sacrifice, implicit bias, and the juxtaposition of bodily autonomy with high-stakes capitalism—for those who love fiercely strong characters and deep themes infused with heartwarming moments of love and humor.
The cure for cancer is hiding in Calla Hammond’s blood. As a participant in a research project, Calla’s motivation is to help others. However, the young woman becomes the target of those seeking to profit from the lifesaving elixir.
Author Catherine Devore Johnson delivers a powerful thriller with The Panacea Project. At age 22, Calla has spent much of her life as an outcast because of vitiligo. This was an intriguing aspect of the story, underscoring that her appearance often led others to needlessly shy away for fear of “catching” something.
As a participant in the study, Calla develops friendships with the medical team. For someone who has never had those relationships before, this is a significant step. Calla’s personality shines through these interactions. She often bakes items to share with others, which illustrates her giving nature.
It’s what is happening behind the scenes that puts Calla in danger. A foiled kidnapping by a desperate couple and an abduction by people determined to make a profit off of her blood force Calla to make a gut-wrenching decision.
Humor and innocence combine to make Calla a truly unique character. Rich secondary characters enhance the storyline as it reaches the powerful conclusion.
From start to finish, The Panacea Project delivers a medical thriller that skirts the ethical boundaries of consent.
Catherine Devore Johnson is a former attorney turned writer. Her work has won or placed in competitions held by the Houston Writers Guild and the Writers’ League of Texas, and she has published an essay in the Houston Chronicle about caring for her mother after two strokes. She works as a writer and editor at a children’s hospital and lives in Houston with her husband and two children. The Panacea Project is her first novel.