Friday, November 16, 2012

Review: What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang

I should not exist. But I do.

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.

In a market over-saturated with shallow dystopias, “What’s Left of Me” is a book of hidden depth (MARVEL, puny humans, at my masterful wordplay!) Where most authors don’t develop their book past the initial premise, Kat Zhang creates a world where humans are born with two souls: one dominant, which eventually takes over, and one recessive, and explores it through the eyes of Eva and Addie, two girls who never truly “settled”.
Now, I quite enjoyed this book: Whether because I haven’t read ANYTHING in a while, and this came as a nice surprise, or because the story is so engrossing, but I just gobbled it up. However, instead of going on my usual broad spiel about plot and characters, I’d like to focus this review on a more specific, oft-ignored element of YA novels: that of the family.
I think anyone who has ever read extensively in YA genre has heard of DPA - disappearing parent syndrom, a term coined to reflect the fact that the majority of YA and Paranormal YA novels feature dead parents, workaholic parents or just emotionally distant parents. Indeed, if you’re not American and your only base of reference are popular YA novels, you may think that in the USA, there isn’t a single happy family (or, at least, a single happy family featuring white teenagers living in suburban Somewhere).
Many writers have pointed out that this is, in part, a requirement of the genre - that the lack of parental authority is what allows the protagonist to go on wacky adventures, or that the loss of the unconditional love is what shaped the MC’s character. However, I can’t help but think that this explanation is a little too easy. Yes, there are books (Shiver) where the protagonist genuinely feels the loss of her parents, and where the problem is addressed (albeit in a very short scene), but they are few and far in between. And, as the ladies over at Cuddlebuggery have already pointed out, that’s unrealistic.
I went on this tangent because “What’s Left of Me” has a severe case of DPA, but Ms Zhang takes it to a whole new height by putting family in the very centre of her book. Unlike most YA dystopias, the core of the story isn’t the romance, but the relationship between Addie and Eva. And boy, is it a rocky one! Somehow, we see them going through their lives, struggling under the pressure to conform to what society expects of them, struggling with the guilt they feel because of their parents and their own frustrations. Each of the two girls is a well-built character, which is really a feat. TWINS in fiction are barely portrayed as separate beings, let alone twin souls living in the same body, yet Ms Zhang pulls it off.
And, what is particularly good, is that this kind of development of sibling relationships goes well past Addie and Eva. Hell, they even have a cute little brother and still their interactions left me feeling warm, rather than annoyed.
So in terms of characters and broad themes, “What’s Left of Me” is already a novel worth reading. But plot wise, I have to say, it doesn’t quite hold up - I felt the pacing was rather off and a little more urgency couldn’t have hurt, but that’s really up to personal preference. In all, I’ll be looking forward to the next book.
Note the first: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley.
Note the second: Image and synopsis via Goodreads.

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