Author: Kat Zhang
Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: September 2012
Hardcover: 352 Pages
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.
Stand alone or series: Book One of the Hybrid Chronicles
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher (from BEA)
Why did I read this book: I fell in immediate lust with this book the minute I finished reading the blurb – two souls in one body? Yes please. Not to mention, the cover is striking, as is the title, and I’ve been hungry for a really good new scifi dystopia. What’s Left of Me looked like it could fit the bill.
Addie and Eva. Eva and Addie. From birth, the two souls have shared the same breath and heartbeat, occupied the same flesh, inseparably intertwined. The girls are twin souls, hybrid souls – and like everyone else born in the world, they grow together sharing their every thought and feeling with the other. As the years pass, they also fight for control of their shared body, learning who is stronger and who is weaker. Because in Addie and Eva’s world, by the age of 10, a dominant soul is meant to emerge, the recessive soul meant to simply fade away, as though it never existed. Addie and Eva are different, though, and as the years pass, Eva refuses to disappear. The neighbors talk, the kids at school stare, and the government doctors step in. At the age of 12, after tests and treatments and thorough examination, Addie is declared “normal” and Eva is no more.
Except that Eva did not disappear, and still lives and breathes. Addie and Eva, Eva and Addie are Hybrid. After years of ceaseless war between normal, single soul Americans and invading monstrous Hybrids, fear of Hybrids is pervasive and without compare. This is Addie and Eva’s greatest secret, and if they are to be discovered and revealed as a Hybrid, they will be imprisoned, killed, or worse.
So one day, when a strange girl at school named Hallie begins to relentlessly seek out Addie, Addie and Eva are terrified that she knows their secret. But that’s when Addie and Eva learn that Hallie is just like them, a secret hybrid – but Hallie’s other soul, Lissa, has the control and ability to move and talk on her own. Eva, who has been a passenger for so long, who has only ever been able to talk to Addie in her mind, will do anything to learn how Hallie and Lissa coexist. Even if it means risking their greatest, most guarded secret.
The debut novel from author Kat Zhang, What’s Left of Me is a new entry in the sci-fi dystopia YA realm – an overpopulated, largely bland and somewhat homogenous landscape with a few amazing, brightly shining exceptions. Whenever I find a new novel of this particular subgenre, I am wary, but try to be cautiously optimistic – yes, there are many bland Not Dystopias that seem to use a pale, halfbaked totalitarian society as a mere backdrop for contrived insta-romance. At the same time, this is one of my most beloved subgenres, and home to many of my favorite books – from The Giver through Obernewtyn, The Knife of Never Letting Go through Blood Red Road.
It was with trepidation that I began What’s Left of Me; it was with complete and rapt exhilaration that I finished the book. What’s Left of Me is an original, harrowing, and unforgettable novel, and I loved every second of it.
The thing that first caught my eye about Zhang’s debut novel was the conceit of two different souls born into the same body, living together until one emerges dominant and the other dissolves. In Eva and Addie’s case, though, the two souls remain occupying the same flesh – which seems impossible, doesn’t it? How could you live with two completely different entities within, knowing each other’s every thought and experience? How could two souls live together and have one fall in love?
The very idea of Hybrids is fascinating, but more importantly, Zhang delivers in the execution of this unique concept brilliantly, through clever writing and the characterization of Eva. What’s Left of Me is narrated by Eva, Addie’s repressed soul who has clung tooth and nail to life – or whatever small semblance of life she can have as a secret observer to Addie’s life, communicating only with Addie. From the time they were children, both accepted and loved by their family and society in the years before they were due to Settle, Addie was always the dominant one, quicker and stronger than Eva in controlling their body. And, through Eva’s perspective, we see just how isolated she is, how cruel her very existence is – Addie gets to walk and talk and live, while Eva is a secret that no one can ever know about. Not her parents, not her brother, no one. Yet for this, Eva isn’t resentful or bitter – but when she is given the chance to move and live like Addie, it makes sense that she desperately clings to that possibility, regardless of the risk involved. At the same time, even though the book is narrated by Eva, we also learn and feel for and understand Addie, too – who must love and resent Eva’s existence, keeping her from being “normal” but at the same time her greatest confidant and an inseparable part of her. It’s amazing to read the kind of quiet symbiosis the two souls have achieved – at one point, Addie and Eva fight and stop talking to each other, and as a result, Addie forgets where her hairbrush is, or to turn off her alarm because Eva is the observant one that reminds Addie to do these things each day. Little touches like that add a believable dynamic to the girls’ complicated relationship.
What’s Left of Me also weaves the nature of these conflicted dual souls into the writing of the book – we can see Eva and Addie’s relationship change as the pronouns start to shift, from me and mine to us and ours. Addie begins to vocalize the forbidden “us” in reference to herself and Eva; Eva does not feel guilt for her existence and feels tactile things and emotions of her own volition. This is incredibly, mind-blowingly effective, and I love the careful even-handedness of this narrative development.
On the dystopia-meter, What’s Left of Me also delivers. The xenophobia that characterizes the novel – the intense fear and hatred of the Other in the form of Hybrids is palpable and exceptionally well done in this book. Addie and Eva’s world is truly a dystopian one, and their society guards terrible secrets – what happens to those children who don’t Settle and emerge with one Dominant soul? Why are there Hybrids in the first place? There’s so much more, too – there’s a Golden Compass sort of horror and reveal at what exactly is being done to children Hybrids taken in by the government. There’s the characters of Hallie and Lissa, and her older brother Devon and recessive soul Ryan – who comes to mean something very important to Eva. There are nefarious and conflicted doctors alike, and, most of all, there are other, much larger reveals about the nature of this future America and its place in the rest of the world.
In short, allow me to summarize: What’s Left of Me is a dazzling, utterly memorable first novel, and in the running for one of my top ten favorite books of the year. This is the stuff of great science fiction dystopia, YA or adult alike. Absolutely, wholeheartedly, emphatically recommended.
Additional Thoughts: Make sure to stop by and check out our interview with Kat Zhang, part of the official blog tour to celebrate the release of the novel!
For more, check out the other stops on the tour:
9/3 The Book Smugglers — Interview
9/4 Cuddlebuggery — Interview
9/5 Reading Teen — Character Interview, Addie
9/6 Chick Loves Lit — Interview
9/7 Xpresso Reads — Interview
9/10 The Mod Podge Bookshelf — Character Interview, Addie
9/11 Bloggers Heart Books — Interview
9/12 Sash & Em: A Tale of Two Bookies — Interview
9/13 Me, My Shelf, and I — This or That
9/14 Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing — Interview
Rating: 8 – Truly Awesome, leaning towards a 9
Reading Next: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand
Buy the Book: (click on the links to purchase)