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Book Review: Falls the Shadow by Stefanie Gaither

In the year 2014, it can still be hard for a young woman with no children to get a tubal ligation. And in the 1970s, it was even harder. After giving birth to my brother, her second and final child, my mom went in and asked to have her tubes tied. She was done. “But what,” the doctor asked, “if one of your children died? Then wouldn’t you want to have another?” She went back in several times and always gave the same answer, “If one of my children died, a new child wouldn’t replace them or stop my grief. A new child would be just that, a new and different child. That child wouldn’t be Karen.” And after giving this answer a few times, the doctor became convinced that this was the right decision for her.

But what if cloning were possible? What if when your child was born they could use the DNA to create an exact duplicate? And what if your biological child, the one you gave birth to, was linked wirelessly to a clone in a warehouse where every day your child’s memory and personality was being downloaded? What if when your biological child died, you could bury that child in the grown and then go and retrieve a clone that had grown from the same biological material and had the same memories of that child you had just buried, would you? And would it really be the same child?

That is the question that Falls the Shadow by Stefanie Gaither asks. If you could have a back up, would you? Could you love it the same? Would it, in fact, be the same?

Cate Benson has a sister. That sister, Violet, got sick and died. Almost immediately after the funeral, Cate and her parents got in a car and drove to the clone bank and walked out with her sister. Well, a clone of her sister. She shadow that looks exactly like Violet. She acts exactly like Violet, well mostly. There are some differences. Is this who Violet would have become? Or is the shadow of Violet somehow wrong?

Cate lives in a world where cloning is very controversial. There are those, like her family, that support the idea of cloning. And there are those who very much do not. Cate has spent the past 4 years dealing with the looks, the taunts, the aloneness of it all. Her family has a clone in a world where the issue of cloning is very controversial.

And now, to make matters worse, Violet might have murdered the most popular girl at school.

What follows is a search for answers in the midst of some very real political turmoil. There are competing agencies with very strong agendas involved and it turns out that not everyone is who you think they are. Some of the good guys are very much not. And sometimes, there might even be clones when you lease expect it. Oh, and it’s possible that those who are creating the clones may in fact be tinkering with the DNA for nefarious purposes. If you can play God, why not go all out – but of course know needs to know what you’re really doing, or why.

I thought this was a really interesting read. There were a couple of twists and turns that I was not expecting. And the question of scientific ethics and the ethics of power are always very fascinating, this is no exception. In the midst of it all we see Cate’s very real inner turmoil as she wrestles with very strong but contradictory feelings regarding her sister. Cate’s emotional journey is powerful and captivating.

If I had a complaint, and I do, this is the 3rd book in a row I read where a girl was “kidnapped” and held hostage in some fashion by a boy that she goes on to have possible romantic feelings for. It’s a personal pet peeve of mine, let’s just stop doing that. Just once maybe the girl could be very firm in her resolve that this is an unforgivable act and I am not attracted to you now because, you know, kidnapping. And as I mentioned, this book is not the only culprit. I get why it happened in each of the stories, it’s a device that propels the plot forward, but I don’t like the icky message is sends to young readers that this is somehow romantic. And to be fair, Cate does wrestle very much with anger and doubt regarding the whole issue. But I’m just to the point where personally – this is a dealbreaker for me.

But in truth, that is one of my only concerns. Falls the Shadow is a thoughtful read that looks at very real world issues – cloning has been a source of much debate for a few decades now – and does it with plenty of action, mystery, and thrills. I enjoyed the various characters and the situations they found themselves in; many of the teens are being drawn into very adult conspiracies and trying to figure out what they think and feel while also trying to please their powerful parents. It’s very real and relatable, but in a very cool scenario.

And honestly, trying to figure out Violet is the most fascinating part of all.

Definitely recommended. Released in September 2014 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781442497535