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Book Review: What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang

“Addie and I were born into the same body, our souls’ ghostly fingers entwined before we gasped our very first breath.” – Kat Zhang, What’s Left of Me

In pregnancy there is a phenomenon known as vanishing twin syndrome; sometimes a pregnancy starts out with twins and one of the other twins simply seems to disappear early in the pregnancy.  Old wives tales, and some horror stories, have suggested that the one twin is absorbed into the other and they compete for dominance.  I believe years ago Caroline B. Cooney wrote a book with this premise.

“I was terrified. I was eleven years old, and though I’d been told my entire life that it was entirely natural for the recessive soul to fade away, I didn’t want to go. I wanted twenty thousand more sunrises, three thousand more hot summer days at the pool. I wanted to know what it was like to have a first kiss. The other recessives were lucky to have disappeared at four or five. They knew less.”
Kat Zhang, What’s Left of Me

But what if every body was born with two souls and we called them Hybrids?  By the time you turned a certain age you were expected to say goodbye to one soul while the other took dominance.  And what if some of the souls didn’t want to go away (or settle as it is called here)?  That is the premise of What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang.

Meet Addie.  She has a fearful secret.  Inside her body lives not one soul, but two.  Eva exists inside her and the two have frequent conversations with one another.  At this point no one knows the truth – they have never settled.  Children who don’t settle are taken to institutions to be “fixed”.  Outside of the US borders hybrids still exist, but inside a sort of peace has been afforded by creating a rigid society in which hybrids are no longer encouraged.

Addie and Eva think they are doing a pretty good job of keeping their secret until they discover that there are others like them.  Soon they are captured and taken to a facility where they are held prisoner.  It soon becomes clear that the people in charge are conducting experiments on these children and Addie/Eva must fight their way out of the facility, while fighting for control of their body, if they want to survive.

This is some seriously cerebral science fiction; Addie and Eva spend a lot of time in dialogue inside their head.  It’s a slow, though very interesting start. The action picks up once they are inside the facility, but unfortunately I can see a lot of teen readers giving up on this book before it gets there, which is unfortunate.  There is a lot of discussion to be had surrounding What’s Left of Me.

The Two Faces of Eva
I can’t tell you that this is what Zhang intended, but as I kept reading What’s Left of Me I thought about Carl Jung and the idea of the Shadow Self.  There is that part of us that we present to the world around us, our outers selves.  And then there is our inner self, that part of us which we hide.  I think teens especially do a lot of this as they try on different roles and try to fit into the various different parts of their lives.  Eva and Addie reminded me not so much as two souls inhabiting one body, but of the various parts of ourselves that we choose to show depending on the situation we are in and the company we are with.

The Ethics of Science
A big theme that keeps coming up in the books I have been reading lately revolves around the ethics of science.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but there is some interesting discussion to be had regarding the limits of science and what we can, and should, subject people to with or without their consent.  And there is some definite non-consent happening here.  Because I spend a lot of time reading in the Autism community, I know that there are some who believe that the government is trying to put either nanochip tracking devices in our vaccines or use the vaccines as a sort of population control.  In the past, US citizens were subjected to radiation, agent orange and more without their consent.  The idea of government using science to control its people without consent is not a new one, but it is definitely one that we need to keep happening; especially since teens are now developing their ideas and opinions regarding democracy, the limits of government, and the ethics of science.  Sometimes we use the what ifs in Science Fiction to remind us to live ethical lives.

This is a Character Piece
At a time where ya lit is filled with lots of action and adventure, it is interesting to get back to the thinking roots of Science Fiction and examine the inner lives of characters.  In What’s Left of Me, we get an inside look at what it means to be an outsider and what it means to live in fear of your secrets.  This is a slowly developing look at a very rich inner life; at times the cast of characters seems small and almost claustrophobic, but it also affords us that intimate look into the inner self that I mentioned before.  Interestingly, even though you definitely get to know the main characters intimately, I didn’t necessarily have strong investment in them, not the way I did some of the supporting players.  And speaking of characters, there are some interesting twists on a love story has some of the non-dominant souls fall in love with one another.

What’s Left of Me has a stunning cover and interesting premise that I think will definitely lure teen readers; but I’m not going to lie, it is hard for me to think that MY teen readers will finish this book.  I hope I am wrong, I hope that the thought provoking concept and the haunting prose will keep them reading.  I think that like Addie and Eva, there are two faces to What’s Left of Me: The underlying themes are thought provoking and compelling, but sometimes the execution moves just a little too slowly. Pair this with The Host by Stephenie Meyer.  3.5 out of 5 stars.

What’s Left of Me (Hybrid Chronicles book 1) by Kat Zhang. Published by HarperTeen 2012.  ISBN: 0-06-211487-7

I really wrestled with this book, so if you have read it please share your thoughts in the comments.

Take 5: Weird Science

I recently received a special grant from my Friends of the Library grant to update our YA collection.  They tacked on an additional $500.00 with the challenge that they wanted me to add more math and science related books in the collection.  So the challenge was this: Can you find some YA titles that talk about science and math?  Here are my Take 5; 5 ya titles with enough science to meet the bill but action, adventure and more . . .

For nonfiction titles, I am a huge fan of the Basher Science books (found here).  They are definitely aimed at the younger end of the YA spectrum in terms of layout and design BUT you can’t beat them for their simple, straightforward presentation of the information.  They won’t give you in depth information for a report, but they will help you understand the basics and serve as a great ready reference tool for your basic questions.  I bought a collection of these for my tween at home for a really good price through the Scholastic book fair (which I love and The Mr. hates because of what it does to his wallet).

In addition, here are 5 of my favorite YA fiction titles that have just enough science in them to fit the bill and get teens thinking while providing quality thrills, chills and just a dash of romance.

Unwind and Unwholly by Neal Shusterman
This is a great dystopian read with a look at what a future where parents can decide to “unwind” their children may look like.  In Unwholly, out this year and amazing, they also dabble in creating a modern day Frankenstein.  Unwind is one of my favorite dystopians, out before dystopians were all the rage.

BZRK by Michael Grant
Nanotechnology: What can we do with it? What should we do with it?  This is a great guy read.  Mature content.  I am looking forward to the sequel, I really liked this one.  Read my full review here.

Virals and Seizures by Kathy Reichs
A group of teens live on a secluded island where their parents are all scientists.  Like those meddling kids from Scooby Doo, these teens just can’t keep their nose out of things and in the process of trying to solve an old missing persons case they find their lives forever changed – literally.  This series is popular with my teens.  I read book 1 and it was a decent read.

What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang
In this vision of the future, each body is born with two souls with the expectation that only one of them will remain.  The recessive soul is expected to “settle.”  But what happens when they don’t?  Is there a scientific cure?  I just finished this book and will be reviewing it in a few days.  In the end, it is definitely recommended.

 Delirium and Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
Can we alter teenagers, cut the part out of them that makes them able to love?  In Lauren Oliver’s brilliant dystopian, the future has declared love a disease and all teens undergo a surgery that renders them cured from its curse.  Moving, brilliant, and thought provoking.  This is a must read.

And of course, Origin by Jessica Khoury.

What’s on your list of ya lit with a hint of science?  Share it with us in the comments.