Monday, 22 October 2012

What's Left of Me, by Kat Zhang

Eva is in hiding. Only her twin, Addie, knows that she is still alive. But Eva and Addie are not twins in the way you might expect: in their world, everyone is born a twin. Every body is born with two souls residing inside, sharing one body, taking turns to walk and talk. But in Eva and Addie’s world, it is also normal for one of these two souls to slip away, to pass on, leaving their body for their twin. This ‘settling’ is supposed to happen when they are five or six years old, but Eva and Addie never settled. Now fifteen, every day Addie pretends to her friends and family, to the world around her, that Eva doesn’t exist anymore. Because if they find out she’s lying, they will - at best - lock her up, and at worst, hunt her down and forcibly remove Eva from their body. Because hybrids - bodies where two souls remain - are the enemy. They are considered wrong, dangerous.

What’s Left of Me is Eva and Addie’s story. It’s another title to file under the heading of ‘teen dystopia’, yet it’s fresh and different. The basic concept reminded me of a mix of Stephenie Meyer’s The Host (where an alien soul takes over and shares a human body with a human soul), and Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights (where an evil faction are experimenting on the separation of humans from their daemons), but the treatment reminded me strongly of Ally Condie’s fantastic dystopian love story, Matched. For this is where the strength of the story lies, and where the dystopian factor comes in: government conspiracy and manipulation; the discovery that everything you’ve been taught is a lie, the discovery that everything you trusted and believed in is wrong.

Kat Zhang has done a great job of putting her idea into words. Writing two different aspects of one person, or of two souls in one body, could have proven difficult, but her approach makes it easy for the reader to distinguish between Eva and Addie, and you can even see the different characters that not only these two girls have, but the different characters of the other hybrids they encounter as well. Referring to one body as ‘we’ must have kept Zhang on her toes, but how other people in the story use ‘I‘ or ‘we‘ or ‘they’ also gives the reader lots valuable clues about the people encountered and the events going on. Early on she raises the question over the potential problems of two people living in one body, making me wonder whether the government’s stance on hybrids is actually a wise and sensible one, but she also raises a lot of moral ideas too. Is it murder to remove a co-sharing soul? Just because the body still exists and still has a soul within it, doesn’t change the fact that an equally valuable soul has, essentially, died.

Eva and Addie are both fighting for their rights, for their freedom, but how far are each of them willing to go to get what they want? And how far are others willing to go for what they believe in? Zhang sets a good pace, with lots of tension and action as well as the moral aspect, though I did get a tad bored - or not bored so much as bogged down - around two thirds of the way through, where I started to lose track of where the story was going or how it was going to progress. Progress it did, although not at quite the same rate with which the story began. Things are tied up quite nicely at the end, whilst simultaneously leaving it open for the story to continue into part two of what is currently dubbed The Hybrid Trilogy. It’s not as good as The Hunger Games or Matched, but it’s definitely up there with the better dystopian stories, and bound to be a hit with the teenage audience.

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