Interesting concept with lots of struggle, of both the internal and external variety
This book took some getting used to, because of the unnatural (yet accurate for the story) use of pronouns and verb conjugations. Because there are two people sharing one body, you get paragraphs like this:
"Kind of," Addie said. She managed to keep our voice bland despite Hally's dogged high spirits, but our fingers tugged at the bottom of our blouse. It had fit at the beginning of the year, when we'd bought all new uniforms for high school, but we'd grown taller since then. Our parents hadn't noticed, not with -- well, not with everything that was happening with Lyle -- and we hadn't said anything.
"Want to come over?" Hally said.
Addie's smile was strained. As far as we knew, Hally had never asked anyone over.
- page 8, What's Left of Me
Keeping in mind that all those "our"s and "we"s are talking about two individuals sharing the same body. Sometimes Addie acts independently of Eva, sometimes they act together. Sometimes people are addressing both of them, sometimes just one. You'd think it would be really confusing, but it's not once you get used to it. I do, however, feel sorry for Kat's editor. Grammarcheck would have had a hard time with this one.
I really liked that this story was told from the perspective of Eva, the recessive soul. It was fascinating watching Eva and Addie's sibling dynamic, when one of them had only a voice and no body. They could communicate with each other, but Eva couldn't speak with their voice to anyone else. So lots of times, Eva sat helplessly inside their body, urging Addie toward a course of action, only to have to suffer the consequences when Addie made a different choice.
Although it wasn't a major plot point of the book, I was completely fascinated by the family dynamics in the book. Eva and Addie's parents both, at some point during their lives, tell them that they love both of them. But at the same time, they urge Eva to fade away, and for Addie to assert her dominance. It's such a weird and challenging concept -- how should a parent's love be affected by having two children inhabiting the same body? And should they mourn the "death" of one for the good of the other, or should they simply accept it as the way life works? Eva, obviously, feels hurt by the withdrawal of her parents' affection -- from her, not Addie -- even as she tries to tell herself it's normal for them to stop talking to her. Again, this isn't actually a huge part of the story, but it was such an interesting question to me.
And the question necessarily expands to intertwine with the main narrative. Should one soul be forced to fade away, or do both have a right to share the body? And if both souls have equal rights to the body, who gets to choose what they do? If one soul is romantically attracted to someone and the other is not, which gets to follow their heart?
As Eva and Addie struggle with these philosophical questions, they have to deal with the physical problem of being taken and incarcerated if their hybrid nature is discovered. And so in addition to the internal struggle, there is a lot of external action, adventure, and peril. Even a touch of romance, although that too becomes a delicate and challenging situation. It's a great mix, and I was completely sucked in.
Eva's narration is sparse but effective, and the storytelling flowed nicely. There's still some huge questions at the end of the book, but it's not a cliffhanger. Truthfully, I don't know if it's possible to fully and neatly answer all of the questions raised by this book, so in that way, it would actually work as a standalone (even though it's the first of a trilogy). Oh, and although it's being touted as a dystopian, it's really not. Nor is it really sci-fi. More of an alternate reality. It's one of those books that's kind of hard to define, which I think actually broadens its appeal.
Although I actually have no tangible complaints with this book, I'm not giving it an A rating. This seems weird, but basically, I felt like there was room for something more, either more connection with the characters or more insight into this strange world. It's not that I think the book did anything wrong, it's that I feel there's potential for better. Because I thought this book was really good, but it didn't completely knock me off my feet. I feel like it could, and I'm almost expecting that from the sequel. But while this one was highly enjoyable, it didn't quite crack that amorphous bubble that houses my all-time favorites. That said, I still highly recommend it.
In the world of What’s Left of Me, children are born with two souls. One of those souls is dominant, and the other is recessive. Within a few years of the child’s life, the recessive soul will fade away (settle) leaving behind the dominant soul. But what happens when you don’t settle, and are known as a Hybrid? Addie and Eva are faced with that problem, being fifteen and having not settled yet. In a world where being a Hybrid is considered dangerous and a threat, Addie and Eva have to keep the fact that they have not yet settled a secret. But, as obstacles get in their way, can they?
What’s Left of Me was amazing, and I absolutely loved it, but still, I’m torn on whether to give it five stars, or four stars. I want to give it five stars because the pace was crisp; the plot is brilliant and original beyond belief, and the concept that the story is told from the recessive soul, Eva, was a great twist on the common narrator. Everything was refreshing, fun, and there was never a dull or boring moment when reading What’s Left of Me, but it just missed… something.
In What’s Left of Me, we’re told right off the bat that Hybrids are dangerous, and if you have suspicions that someone might be a Hybrid, report them immediately, for they are a threat to everyone. But, we’re never actually given a reason as to why Hybrids are so dangerous, and whenever the book said how dangerous Hybrids were, I just thought, “Why?” I suppose maybe they aren’t dangerous and it’s all a prejudice thing, and that's why there never was an explanation? Again, I’m not too sure, but I hope everything is cleared up in book two. As well as that little world-building flaw, there was a flaw in the writing for me that, while little at first, grew to be an annoyance the more I read the book.
Zhang’s prose is beautiful, and, like the plot, the writing is crisp and it makes for fast reading (although it took me a staggering eight days to finish this), but, unfortunately, Zhang uses an overwhelming amount of repetition when writing. At first, this was something I was able to look over easily, but, like I said, as I read more and more, and the use of repetition became more and more frequent, I became annoyed, but not overly so that I was unable to enjoy the book. And lastly in the things that make me conflicted on whether I should be giving What’s Left of Me four or five stars was that the ending felt too anticlimactic given all the buildup for it throughout the novel, and it was a bit too neat for my likings.
Now onto less ranty things about What’s Left of Me’s rare flaws, and much more praising on everything else that’s in What’s Left of Me, because everything else was amazing.
Right from the start (actually, right when I finished the prologue), I knew that I was going to cry at least once when reading this book (I cried three times). Eva’s voice and experiences (or lack of) were heartbreaking, as was reading about her longing to talk, to move her fingers even—all of the things we normally take for granted—but she was physically unable to do. And, although for most of the book she couldn’t even move her fingers, she was still stronger than half of the heroines in YA literature, and that’s saying something.
Another thing to absolutely love about What’s Left of Me is that all of the characters are flawed and believable, as are all of their relationships, especially the sisterly relationship between Eva and Addie, which was portrayed expertly. And, while there is some romance in What’s Left of Me, it takes up a very minor part in the actual story, and you might even forget there was a romance to begin with (like me).
Overall, despite the problems I had when reading What’s Left of Me (and, when next to the things I didn’t have a problem with, they seem very minor) I absolutely loved this book, and recommend it to anyone looking for an original and refreshing new YA novel.
Often, as I'm reading dystopias, I am making a list of all of the elements borrowed from a prior dystopia. Having read so many, coming across a truly original idea is a bit startling and exceedingly impressive. Kat Zhang's book is like none I have read before. What's Left of Me is a story that questions what it means to be a human, to be a soul, and to be normal.
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.