Author Lauren DeStefano is blurbed on the back of my ARC as saying, "A shockingly unique story that redefines what it means to be human." Usually, I ignore blurbs, because they often say so little, and they're often meaningless. This one I agree with wholeheartedly. That sentence captures the essence of What's Left of Me. This dystopia takes on philosophical questions and is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read this year.
In this world, a sort of alternate universe, two souls are born into every body. At the start of life, there are two people in each human frame. As time passes and the body grows, one of the personalities takes over, asserts dominance, and the other one dissipates, gone as though never there. By the age of ten, there should be just one soul where two used to reside; they should settle. Up until that point, the two souls trade off, so that body is sometimes the one and sometimes the other.
Some souls, though, do not settle. Neither soul goes away entirely. These people are called hybrids, and they are unacceptable. Hybrids are dangerous, unstable within themselves, thus unstable in society. The United States does not stand for this, because they are sick of the wars that hybridity brings, as evidenced by the war-torn, hybrid-filled, foreign nations.
Eva and Addie never settled. Eventually, Eva faded into the background and they pretended to be an I instead of a we, an us instead of a me. Eva can do nothing but watch and listen as her sister controls their body, can converse with no one but Addie, in their mental language. What does it mean to be a soul? To be a person? Is it Addie/Eva that's broken or society?
Told from Eva's perspective, What's Left of Me is daring in its storytelling. Never have I read a book written quite this way, just as I've never considered how different life would be with two people inhabiting the one body. Most of the story is told in first person plural, even though we're in Eva's 'mind' so to speak. This writing style never ceased being odd to me, but it always made sense.
Unlike a lot of dystopias, What's Left of Me does not have a ton of action, though there is some. The joy of this novel is philosophical and psychological. There isn't much romance at all, though there are some hints. Of course, how can you have a healthy relationship when your body doesn't belong just to you? Seriously, how crazy to think about is this?
Aside from Eva, and perhaps Ryan, I didn't get a great feel for most of the characters. Eva, our narrator, is so deep within her own thoughts that she doesn't necessarily have a great feel for anyone. I really didn't get a reading on Addie, except to wonder how she became the dominant personality. I suspect Eva probably should have been and may have faded back to save her Addie's soul, but that's all speculation.
For those of you that enjoy cerebral reads, What's Left of Me is not to be missed. I am truly in awe of Zhang's mind for coming up with such a creative, astounding idea.