Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review: Beta by Rachel Cohn

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Elysia is created in a laboratory, born as a sixteen-year-old girl, an empty vessel with no life experience to draw from. She is a Beta, an experimental model of a teenage clone. She was replicated from another teenage girl, who had to die in order for Elysia to exist. 
Elysia's purpose is to serve the inhabitants of Demesne, an island paradise for the wealthiest people on earth. Everything about Demesne is bioengineered for perfection. Even the air induces a strange, euphoric high, which only the island's workers--soulless clones like Elysia--are immune to. 
At first, Elysia's life is idyllic and pampered. But she soon sees that Demesne's human residents, who should want for nothing, yearn. But for what, exactly? She also comes to realize that beneath the island's flawless exterior, there is an under-current of discontent among Demesne's worker clones. She knows she is soulless and cannot feel and should not care--so why are overpowering sensations clouding Elysia's mind? 
If anyone discovers that Elysia isn't the unfeeling clone she must pretend to be, she will suffer a fate too terrible to imagine. When her one chance at happiness is ripped away with breathtaking cruelty, emotions she's always had but never understood are unleashed. As rage, terror, and desire threaten to overwhelm her, Elysia must find the will to survive. 

And here's what I thought:  While I liked some of the ideas in this book, I just didn't feel connected to the main character at all.  I felt like she was .... flat.   I understand that as a clone, her reactions to the people and the world around her are based on the fact that she doesn't really have any life experience.  The author does a good job of getting that across, and making Elysia learn and grow as the story progresses.  Some of her reactions to her experiences were well-written (like her first taste of chocolate).  However, I just never felt like she was completely realistic.   Her reactions to things, especially as the story continues and she becomes more self-aware, sometimes seem forced.  

And speaking of characters, I also felt like the supporting characters were flat.  There are two other girls (non-clones) who are different, but they both felt unrealistic.  The male characters weren't any better -- and there's a plot turn involving one of them that was pretty awful.  I'm not putting any spoilers in here, but what I will say is that when that plot turn occurred, I felt like it was predictable, based upon the boy's previous behavior and personality.  When the incident occurs, it felt like the author was just forcing another element into the story to give Elysia a big push into doing something drastic .... but it didn't feel natural to the story.

What I did find interesting was the author's approach to cloning, and also, the world that she created in this story.  It's a cool concept to have this luxurious, exclusive island for the wealthy, complete with clones as their servants.  It's a good setup to have this, because it makes you think about the moral implications of not only cloning, but of how in this story, the clones are made into servants.  The clones also are not supposed to have souls, which is an interesting idea all by itself.  After all, who can tell what comprises a soul?   However, this is a science fiction novel where the science isn't really explained fully or supported, which left me with a lot of unresolved questions.  While I don't mind having some questions, or things to think about in a story, in this book, it just felt like it was a bit unfinished.    I think I wanted to like it a bit more than I did, and while there were some interesting concepts here, it wasn't enough to make the book that great of a read for me.

First lines:  It's me she wants to purchase.  The fancy lady claims she came into the resort boutique looking to buy a sweater, but she can't take her eyes off me.


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