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Beautiful City is a science fiction novel set in a very near future dystopian Chicago, where the wealthy retain 24/7 persona management firms and the poor surrender their privacy data in return for free devices and streaming. In the crime-ridden interior of the city, known as the Red Zone, people sell the rights to their GPS feeds and genetic code for whatever they can get, and there a young woman decides to barter the rights to her nephew's genes for a ticket out of the city for both of them.
Rose Franklin's nephew James is 11, but he still can't read or write. She knows the odds are he will fail the State Competencies and end up either dead or incarcerated before his 18th birthday, unless she can find a way to save him. His father is locked up in the sprawling county detention facility, where "Word" or "Ghost Church" believers square off against each other over allegiance to the King James Version of the Bible or to the new "Salvific Word."
In 2036, the only school left in the crime-ridden Red Zone of Chicago is a private charter run by the research conglomerate Genesys, where the students are used as subjects for behavioral intervention studies.
Against his mother's wishes, Rose signs James up for a clinical trial of the Learning Potentiator, a dangerous blood-borne bio-chip, hoping in return to earn him and his mother a ticket out of the city.
When the study collapses in scandal, it's up to Rose to find a way to cut a new deal with Genesys, one big enough to save them all.