Sunday February 24, 2013
Two souls, one body
Review by TAN SHIOW CHIN
Eva and Addie are a dreaded hybrid in hiding, and discovery could mean death for one or both of them.
What’s Left of Me
Author: Kat Zhang
Publisher: Harper, 343 pages
IN an alternate future Earth, everyone is born a hybrid; everyone is born with two distinct souls in them, sharing the same body. And as anyone will tell you, the strain of having to share one body between two souls for a lifetime is enough to either make the souls go insane or cause them to lash out in violence at those around them – thus, leading to violence, war and the breakdown of civilised society.
So when the great wars of the 20th century trigger a second revolution in the United States, the revolutionaries turn against the hybrids – first, by uniting North and South America into one country called the Americas and locking down all its borders to put an end to all immigration; then, by culling all the hybrids from its population.
Now, about 150 years later, the Americas is the only non-hybrid country in the world. Its government proclaims that its peace and prosperity is due to this factor, as all the other countries of the world seethe with violence and war, supposedly due to the inherently chaotic and unsettling nature of hybrids.
Of course, there are still the occasional hybrids that pop up among the population in the Americas. Hence the constant public service announcements warning people to look out for, and report, anyone who might be showing signs of being a hybrid after the ages of seven to 10.
You see, in the Americas, every child is expected to “settle” by the time they are about 10. This means that one of the two souls will naturally turn out to be the dominant one, and the other “recessive” soul will eventually fade away, leaving only one soul in the body.
Addie was thought to be the dominant soul. Although she settled very late, Eva – her twin recessive soul – was thought to have faded away by the time they were 13. But Eva is still there, hanging on and refusing to fade away. Two years later, she remains locked in their shared body, unable to physically control it, her existence only known to Addie.
Every day of their lives, Eva and Addie live in fear of being discovered and sent away to the dreaded institutions where children who have never settled are locked away. Every day, they are bombarded with messages that hybrids are violent, dangerous and a threat to society.
Then, one day, Addie and Eva discover that there are others like them, such as classmate Hally Mullan and her 16-year-old brother Devon. They also discover that the siblings have the key to allowing Eva to once again control their body.
Then, things go horrifyingly wrong when Hally is caught by the police during a mass protest, and is discovered to be a hybrid. Further investigation leads to Devon and his twin soul Ryan as well as Addie and Eva being uncovered, and all six (in their three bodies) are taken to the Normand Centre for Psychiatric Health.
There, they discover the scary results of the centre’s attempts at “curing” hybrids who won’t settle, and more importantly, the reason why the Americas are the only non-hybrid country in the world.
The concept of this novel by first-time author Kat Zhang is definitely interesting, especially as she links souls with genes.
There is a distinct Big Brother feel to the society she has created, and you can tell that she has a firm grasp of the history and world the story is set in.
Her characters are well-defined and can be easily told apart, despite so many personalities sharing bodies.
The narrative is actually from Eva’s point of view, which was a good choice on Zhang’s part, but it would have been interesting to have had alternating points of view between Eva and Addie, as Addie has the stronger physical role in the story.
Zhang also gives us a budding romance, which presents a very interesting dilemma for the characters involved, considering their circumstances. It will be interesting to see how she explores this further in the upcoming sequels – this is the first of a trilogy called The Hybrid Chronicles.
The action is fairly fast-paced, and should keep the reader well-engaged. I finished the book in one sitting myself, although I am a fast reader. Recommended for young adult fiction fans who favour dystopian-type stories with a unique concept.