“Replica” is an unusual book in a very physical sense: both covers show one butterfly wing, but one side says ‘Gemma’ and the other says ‘Lyra’. These are the two protagonists of the book, and their stories meet in the middle. Given this, there’s really three ways to read the book: start with Gemma and then read Lyra, start with Lyra and then read Gemma, or alternate, flipping the book over to swap perspectives. I chose the latter, and I expect I’ll do so again for the sequel, “Ringer”. Gemma is an only child, living with her very wealthy family in Chapel Hill; but Gemma knows very well that money can’t buy happiness, as evidenced by her lifetime of health issues, her parents’ extreme over-protectiveness, and the misery her classmates put her through for not being model-thin. (Gemma’s body issues are a recurring theme- she is repeatedly disgusted by being fat, which may be hard for some readers to deal with.) She has one friend, April, and a dream: to go to Florida over Spring Break like every normal teenager. Lyra’s life is very different; she is a resident of the Haven Institute, and she is a replica. That is, a clone. Like all of the other replicas, she lives a circumscribed life; and like the others, she is sick. Her understanding of the world is limited, and so too are her aspirations- all she wants is to live, and to read. It’s an engaging story, and I repeatedly got caught up in one perspective and had to flip the book and catch up with the other. I could have done with a little less in the way of romantic preoccupation on Gemma’s part, and I don’t love how that turned out, but overall it’s a good, quick read.
Would you want to live forever? This book isn’t the first media to ask that question, directly or not; two major ones spring to mind, namely Doctor Who and Harry Potter. In Doctor Who we have a few different versions of “immortality”, all being imposed on the character without their control: the Doctor, whose Time Lord biology allows him to regenerate (and whose regenerations and general shenanigans may have allowed him to regenerate indefinitely); Captain Jack Harkness, resurrected by the Bad Wolf; Ashildr, resurrected using technology by the Doctor at Clara’s prompting; Clara Oswald herself, pulled from the moment of her death by the Doctor with different technology; possibly the Doctor’s “daughter” Jenny, as well, as she shares the Doctor’s biology. In Doctor Who, immortality is bestowed by others but never acquired by one’s own interest. In Harry Potter, the choice is more active- Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes and Nicholas Flamel’s philosopher’s stone are both intentional, but these choices can (and are) undone. In “Eternal Life”, Rachel’s situation is different, and all the more stark for it: she made a vow, and now she has to live with the consequences. In the Who-verse there are others to blame; in the Potterverse there are loopholes to exploit. Rachel has neither, and can only live with her regrets and fatigue.
There is much more to the story than that, of course; at its core it’s a story about family and choices, about living with your past and looking ahead to your future. The historical elements are well done without being dry or overbearing, and Rachel is an interesting character. I do wish we’d been able to see more of her lives, more glimpses into different pasts, and though the tension with Elazar is curious it’s not quite as compelling once all the facts are laid bare.
The plot is appealing, and is sufficiently complex that I was curious about what was going to happen, but the writing style is too firmly grounded in the grade-school audience. Which is fine- the main character is a 7th grader, after all- but it was just too much for me. That said, I suspect this is a really awesome book and would encourage anyone who finds the blurb interesting to give it a try. (And the illustrations are pretty cute, too.)
In the first chapter, the brothers brutally murder a man’s wife and four children so they can steal his horse, cart, and a sack of turnips. In chapter two, they murder some more, and there’s also a graphic description of one of the brothers killing a hunting dog by chewing through its throat. I did not get to chapter three; this is easily the nastiest book I’ve attempted to read in quite a while.