Author: Kat Zhang (author website | blog)
Release Date: October 1st 2012 by HarperCollins Australia
Age Group: Young Adult
From the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Obernewtyn, to the stark contrasts of poverty and lavish opulence in Pan Am, Dystopian – YA’s enduring wunderkind – comes in many shapes and sizes, and never has it seemed it so normal and suburban, yet so alien, cruel and wrong as in the alternate reality of Kat Zhang's What’s Left of Me.
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.
It's an accepted certainty that every person is born with two souls, two girls or two boys, opening their shared eyes for the first time, as separate and unique as they are one and whole.
It's just as certain that one of those souls will evanesce. Dominant and recessive, one soul born to lead, and to live, the other destined to disappear. Two children within the body of one, with their family, friends, and their world, expecting one to die. Hoping one will fade.
Addie and Eva, Eva and Addie are two such souls. Addie, strong, in control, destined to live, and Eva, destined to... not. But Eva didn't fade when it was her time. Eva clung to life, and now the two girls go about their life, Addie leading, and Eva an ever-present witness, both hiding. Because having two souls, being a 'hybrid', is illegal. Eva and Addie hide in plain sight, from everyone. Even their family. Until someone notices the girl hiding inside, and offers her the unthinkable: a chance to walk again. To breathe. To speak. Trapped inside her sister's body for years, how could they say no?
While, in many ways, Kat Zhang’s debut is an introspective, reflective story, it also carries in its pages a suffocating unfairness, an immense corruption and cruelty that seeps deep enough to rattle bones. I’ve always felt this ‘type’ of novel can go two ways: leaving the protagonist – and reader – feeling empowered, rallied, ready to fight; or adrift in a world of corruption so vast they feel hopeless. What’s Left Of Me left me feeling frightened and small, unconvinced that, hybrid or not, a protagonist so ‘ordinary’ and powerless, so much a normal schoolgirl, could ever overcome a system and government so corrupt, and, honestly, I’m not entirely sure how that makes me feel, or how I feel about the book on a whole.
While it may sound oxymoronic, the lack of grounding in our world, the sense of ‘this could really happen, gives What’s Left Of Me a fantastical feel, but also robs it of frightening impact often granted by the same, yet it feels peculiar to comment on as, in all ways but the obvious – of two souls sharing a single body – there is a profound sense of normalcy to What’s Left Of Me, and an almost Stepford-like suburbia. But this suburbia doesn’t last for long, and despite sixteen years of practice for Addie/Eva, neither does the ‘normal’ façade.’
The relationship between Addie and Eva is the tale’s strongest facet, their pull and push, and the conflict between two very different people with very different desires forced to share one body, one life, is beautiful and painful to witness. This aspect alone is enough to make What’s Left of Me compelling, but a book is never one thing: Animal Farm is not a story solely about talking Animals, and The Hunger Games is not only a story about a girl who’s a decent shot with a bow falling for a baker. Great books are the product of many pieces falling into place cohesively. What’s Left Of Me was like a jigsaw with matching shapes, but not colours.
When we talk of series – and What’s Left Of Me is planned as a trilogy, I believe – it’s not uncommon to hear the term ‘Middle Book Syndrome’ referring to a slump mid-series, or a book two which serves as little more than filler. What’s Left Of Me, being book one, does not have this problem, but ‘Middle Of The Book Syndrome’ may be a more appropriate term. A shocking change in scenery mid-book lends the book a very different – and far darker – tone than that with which it starts, but it also trips pacing. It’s worth noting What’s Left Of Me is very much a character-driven story, but its contemplative tone has moments teetering dangerously close to dull in what should be the novel’s most tense moments.
While What’s Left Of Me is not without its flaws, it remains a lovely story. Quiet, meditative, heavy with stifling oppression, it offers moments of extraordinary insight. Reflecting on what we leave behind as we turn from youth to adulthood – in the case of this world something profound and tangible – What’s Left of Me serves as powerful allegory for the sacrifice of self, of youth, of the self-imposed requirement to conform we each battle.
Filled with achingly beautiful moments of contemplation, and a dystopian side so oppressive, suffocating and cruel in its subtleties and familiarities it’s crushing, What’s Left Of Me is a wonderfully unique story. The concept is extraordinary, and the interplay, the push and pull, the balance between Addie and Eva is compelling and beautiful and heartbreaking. At its worst, it dances close by the boundary of boring, but at its best? It’s breathtaking. I liked What’s Left Of Me. A compelling start to a very promising series.
Books in This Series:
- What's Left Of Me (2012)
- As yet unamed sequel (Expected 2013)
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