I feel like the only books I’ve read lately are good books. The only reviews I’ve been leaving are either 4 out of 5 or even 5 out of 5 stars. Does this make me a bad reviewer? I’m too lenient? Perhaps. Or it just means that there are so many good books out there that deserve that 5 out of 5 stars on a nobody’s blog.
Replica is, obviously, not going to break this streak.
Replica by Lauren Oliver
Published by Harper Collins on October 4th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Suspense, Friendship, Romance, Family, Coming-of-Age, Heartbreak
Pages: 544 (total); 284 (Gemma); 236 (Lyra)
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble
Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★
It has been quite a long time since I have read a book so original (at least to me), so overwhelmingly new, that I had a hard to grasping it (note that the other recent book that made me feel like this would have to be A Court of Thorns and Roses). And I mean this literally, the book, being flipped in my hands every chapter to read from a new perspective is so refreshing and it gives my fingers a workout.
The storyline and characters are not the only unique quality of this book. Creative-genius Lauren Oliver doesn’t simply write this story, but instead puts a piece of art work in our hands. For once, the actual book is part of the story. Almost like a children’s choose-your-own-adventure, Replica is split down the middle; one half consisting of the tale told through normal girl Gemma’s eyes, the other half is the same story, just told through the Replica, Lyra’s, eyes. The reader can decide if they want to read one half and then the other, or, how I read it, they can flip the book over after every chapter, going through each scene with both girls.
Now I will admit that while I find this groundbreaking, it can be tedious. The storyline is just so good that the physical act of closing the book, flipping it, finding the right chapter, reading it, then flipping it again is sort of maddening. I just want to read! I want to absorb Gemma and Lyra’s lives into my own, to learn everything i can about them, and having to constantly flip the lengthy hardcover book in my hands is annoying. This face alone almost made me demote the book to only 4 stars. But Oliver’s story saved it.
The conversation about AI and other robotics is bubbling over the hidden and obscure online sources into everyday talk. From philosophers to celebrities to idiots like me are talking about the the prospect of artificial intelligence in our near future. This is most likely made popular by the sudden stream of AI-related movies and shows like Ghost in the Shell, Ex Machina, Westworld, and others. Suddenly, it’s all anyone can think about in the science fiction realm. Which is why my brain instantly went to AI and the notion of consciousness in a robot when reading through Lyra’s tale. It seemed too easy, though, and it turns out, I was wrong. Lyra isn’t a robot (though all signs point to that in the beginning) instead she is something more grotesque, something more unearthly that confuses the reader to even consider. Sure, we are more accepting of Scarlett Johansson as a crazy, assassin robot that can become invisible, but now (spoiler!) human cloning that actually works? That is just insane!
And yet Oliver has thought of this world. She has done her research too, painstakingly providing details the reader didn’t even know they needed. As if she were playing God, Oliver creates all necessary information to convince both Gemma and those that help her, as well as the reader, that this is, in fact, really happening. From news articles and eye-witness accounts to a plethora of websites with information, Haven Institute becomes something I question why I’m not Googling it now myself. Much like how Tolkien completely births his world, as does Oliver. There are no loose ends or unanswered questions.
So I’ve talked about the physical book itself, the craziness of the plot, meaning all that is left now is to discuss the beauty in Oliver’s characters. I’m not really sure which girl, either Lyra or Gemma, is my favorite. Probably Lyra because for being a clone with no knowledge outside of Haven, she is incredibly pensive and self-assured about herself. Even when the truth behind Haven Institute hits her square in the face, she is still the same girl. Even when her own truth, about her haunting past, arises before her, she is still a girl that loves The Little Prince and the stars, finds reading a necessity, and has such genuine emotions towards fellow clone, 72.
In my opinion, Lyra’s use in this novel is to demonstrate the unworldliness that we treat our bodies and the bodies of others. Sure there is more science fiction to that, as well as plenty of other ways to read Oliver’s tale, but the body is so important, to Lyra and to Gemma, that one cannot read a page without thinking about it. Lyra is tempted to understand every anatomical drawing and reference sheet available to her eyes throughout Haven; Gemma is self-conscious about her weight, looks, and past illnesses. The Haven Institute itself is using bodies for biological warfare. Not weapons or computers, but people. The human anatomy is now both the trench and the battlefield.
What happens when we as a society put so much emphasis on the body that it becomes the norm to replicate it, to dupe others into believing that a body could be so meaningless and easily replaceable? How easy it would be, with the technology used at Haven, to quickly mass-produce “beautiful people” and do away with any “flaws” such as beauty marks, cellulite, crooked noses, imperfect breasts, eye color, hair color–all of which, today, we already do away with. There are doctors setting up right now for surgery on a person who doesn’t think they are pretty enough to be a part of society. A hair stylist is mixing pigment for a client who insists on having rose gold hair because she saw it on Pinterest and wants her Instagram followers to like her even more. There are lasers and zappers, at home DIY treatments and expensive, anesthesia-requiring surgeries that are performed every day for someone to change the way they were born, to change the way they were created. We take advantage of our bodies every second.
Lyra: She had never showered alone before and it felt wonderful: the big echoey bathroom, the space, aloneness of it. Was this how all people lived? It felt luxurious to her (130).
And then there is Lyra who doesn’t even know, isn’t even capable of knowing what is actually happening to her. And she is so enthralled by something so simple, like a shower, a cellphone, a children’s book, a chart of the heart, that we too, as readers, are forced to question the smaller things that we have always overlooked. Can you imagine how incredibly amazing our nervous system is? Working without us telling it to, without us really even noticing that it’s working at all. We would notice when it stops, of course, but for the most part, our brain is firing off signals all over our body and we’re too preoccupied with an online fail video to think about it.
Lyra is a child at heart, curious and questioning, ready to discover something new in something Gemma has considered old. Pens and paper, ready for anything, is Lyra’s playground. She doesn’t need a tablet computer, the new gaming console, TV streaming and what else. She craves knowledge from things we have since forgotten to care about: ourselves.
She is equally intrigued by the male body, and rightfully so. Since she hasn’t had any proper training on human anatomy, only peeks through books and charts, when she and 72 are no longer at Haven, but instead away from what seems like a concentration camp, Lyra begins to learn the true lessons of love: watch and wait or else you get burned:
Lyra: She’d been interested in the males, of course–curious about them–but shed also learned that curiosity led to disappointment, that it was better not to want, not to look, not to wonder (131).
How innate is that! For a girl, never allowed to interact with the boy clones, she naturally understands that being curious about someone else, someone that she doesn’t quite understand and ultimately finds attractive, can lead to failure and she is scared of that. We’re all scared of that.
Gemma as an equally hard time figuring out who she is as well. She identifies as an “alien,” her and her best friend April are “aliens” compared to the pretty, popular girls at school. She believes she is a “freak” because of all the illnesses and surgeries she’s had, the scars showing out of her gym clothes, as well as her weight. She’s embarrassed by it all, and since the girls at school continue to make fun her for both, why shouldn’t she be embarrassed? Women, both young and old, are having to live to such ridiculously high beauty standards that the second someone steps out of line, whether it be with ten pounds extra weight or a scar from a life-saving surgery, they no longer fit the mold and are ridiculed. Ironically, Gemma’s “normal” world would prefer their women be like clones–mass produced and beautiful, not individually but as a whole. Whereas Lyra’s world craves individuality in the case with the scar on Lyra’s forehead, though ugly to her, sets her apart from the other–a clone that is different.
Gemma begins to realize, quite quickly too, that there are many more things to be worried about and to fuss over than her weight. When she meets a guy, two guys actually, who really don’t seem to care that she’s slightly over the normal weight of women, her thighs roughly caressing each other when she sits down, she can’t accept that they don’t see her that way. Then she meets Lyra and realizes that she’s been absolutely bonkers for thinking about her thighs when there have been people being experimented on. Strange, how it takes something so drastic for us to wake up and stop caring about how we look.
But Gemma is not a bad person, she is real. She’s a real girl suffering from self-doubt and her own issues. She is a great representer for young women today–dealing with body image, boys, family, school, friends, and moving.
Gemma: But she had already cried…and today she felt nothing but a strange, bobbing sense of emptiness, as if she was a balloon untethered from the earth, slowly floating away into nothingness (33).
Yet she experiences such dramatic and life-altering things that it’s surprising she comes out of it so strong. This book is definitely a coming-of-age tale, but not in the traditional sense. Gemma is forced into her coming-of-age. Instead of struggling with normal teen problems, like her body, Gemma is thrown into a whirlwind of horrors as she discovers her father’s secret. She realizes then that her own issues are minute compared to that of Lyra and 72’s. How can someone sit and obsess over their body when someone next to them is skin and bones because of experimentation? Gemma quickly matures from teen drama to heroine as she defends the rights of Lyra and 72, demanding her parents respect them and her.
Gemma: There was no time, only change, only atoms rotating, only Gemma and Pete and Rick Hairless and a love so turned around and imperfect and blind it could only be called faith (260).
She becomes insightful and courageous, something she never dreamed she could be. Her life obviously changes throughout this book, both for the good and the bad, as she discovers who and what she really is, what her family really is, and who she wants to be in the end.
If you are interested in anything science fiction, want a twinge of romance, and heart-stopping suspense then this is surely a read for you. Oliver has crafted such a unique tale that battles for recognition. It has been a while since I’ve read something so heartfelt and genuine and overall different in the Young Adult category. Thank you Lauren!