Review: Replica by Lauren Oliver

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4 out of 5 Duplicated Stars

I was super excited for this. I’ve read two other of Oliver’s books, Panic and Rooms, and I loved them both. I don’t know what it is about how she writes, but it just grabs me and sucks me in. And this was no different.

The thing about this book is that it could come off as a gimick. There are two POV’s, but rather than being interwoven, they are separated. Gemma’s is on one side of the book, and Lyra’s is on the other. You flip the book around to read whichever one you want. You can read them one after the other, or flip them back and forth between chapters. That’s what I did, so I interwove the story myself. It doesn’t always work well, as sometimes I was behind one POV or the other. I enjoyed reading it- but there was no reason the two POV’s couldn’t have been interwoven and the book flipping rendered unnecessary. It certainly is a gorgeous book, with a bright pink butterfly on the hardback.

As for the story – I started on Gemma’s side. She is an overweight teen, with a pill popping mother and a distant, rigid father who’s often traveling for his work. She had a lot of health problems as a child, and as a result, her parents are very overprotective and strict. She hardly ever gets to do anything, and at the slightest sign of ill health, her mother goes into panic mode. This side of the story is kinda ho-hum, mostly buoyed by my own memories of bein’ the fat girl suffering under the hands of the mean girls. Her only comfort in life is her best friend, April, her co-alien in a world full of regular people. A strange act of vandalism, a near abduction and an overheard argument with her parents makes her start to wonder about that alien thing. She knows that her dad had a connection to a mysterious research facility, and she starts to wonder if it had something to do with her childhood illnesses. I don’t know if I would have been as interested in the story if I’d just read Gemma’s story by itself, or alone after reading Lyra’s.

Lyra actually lives at the mysterious research facility. Her part was much more intriguing, because things are weird there.The first thing she tells us is that sometimes, at night, they can hear people across the water chanting, calling them monsters and demons. She feels that the guards are there to keep the bad people out, and to protect the replicas. That is what they are – not real people, not made by God, but abominations. It was immediately creepy, weird and sad, all at once, wondering what on earth is going on here. Why are there all these kids, lots of them sick or developmentally delayed, in this facility? We learn right away the cloning process isn’t perfected yet, and lots of the children “fail to thrive.” It’s clear that Lyra doesn’t process things emotionally like a regular teenager. She comes off as very innocent, and despite her strange view of the world, she does remember with great fondness anyone who has been kind to her. There have been some doctors and nurses who were nice, but sadly, they are all gone. She especially remembers Dr. O’Donnell, who read to the children and treated them like actual human beings with feelings.

It’s really sad how the children are treated. The staff act as if they can’t hear, and they overheard terrible things about themselves. Lots of things is relayed to the reader that Lyra doesn’t understand. It’s clear the children are being experimented on. And then, a male replica, known only as 72, escapes. The facility is in the middle of a marsh, sort of on an island, and everyone who talks about the escapee is very callous- talking about how he’ll have been eaten by the alligators. Only… what if he hasn’t?

We wouldn’t have much of a story if our groups of teens don’t meet, would we? Gemma wants to know about this mysterious facility that is the root of all her past family history. The theme that stuck with me in this was the horrible term “normal”. What is normal? It’s a word that people who aren’t neurotypical struggle with. It’s a word that can’t truly be defined as far as the human condition goes. It makes just about every teenager feel uncomfortable. The herd will sort out and punish those who stray from the “norm”. We had Gemma, who refers to herself as an alien, and Lyra, and all the replicas, who know they aren’t normal. They are “other”. But is it just behavior that defines normality? Growing up in a suburb with a family? Being rich? Being Poor? Who is other? Clone or outcast? Which is worse? It raised some interesting questions.

I was very confused about certain aspects of the story. There was this whole thing about child snatching, and even parents being given money by an organization for their children, which made no sense because Haven was full of clones. What did missing kids have to do with the clones? All you need is some genetic material to make your clones. They even make mention of how you can get genetic material just for the cost of transportation, which is only a couple hundred dollars. So why snatch kids at all? And how could a facility with money problems give people thousands of dollars for children when they could just snatch orphans or pay transportation fees for genetic material that would then be theirs? There were also some science things that didn’t make much sense. I was more satisfied with the secret facility/government research side of the story and how it affected our main characters.

Now to get down to the amount of diversity in the book  -that is something that I always point out in my reviews. Lyra, Gemma, Pete, and Jake are all white. There is no one the characters bump into as they traverse Florida described as anything other than you would assume to be white. Gemma’s best friend April Ruiz has two moms, and is Latina, but she’s hardly in the book. She’s not even really a sidekick. She doesn’t go on the adventure. She’s an obstacle. A side character. The boy who escapes the facility, named 72 is described as “of mixed race” and described as almost unbearably beautiful. He’s not very verbal, he’s usually angry and sullen. He doesn’t have a name. Lyra gives him a name and then feels that she kind of owns part of him. It rings of the “savage”, and he’s sort of “exoticised”. Those, I know, are two hotpoint words when it comes to characters. Oliver does not use the word exotic or savage…. but it’s all there in the description. Why describe him as mixed race -what is that? How can you tell someone is mixed race by looking? Why not say he has a certain color of skin? I just felt that was a problematic description when mixed with the other parts of his characterization. In trying to find words to explain this, I literally googled it and came up with this from a blog post from mixedraceidentity called “The Fetishisation of Mixed Race Individuals/The Exotic Fallacy” that summed it up far better than I could:

Statements about mixed race people being ‘exotic’ and more beautiful, aside from being fallacious, are also problematic and potentially dangerous.  The accompanying racial fetishisation is an issue for mixed race people and also for the POC communities to which they belong.  It is an issue for all multiracial identities but I have come across this with alarming prevalence in concern to those of us who are part-white/European.

I felt like Oliver was bringing race into the “what is normal” question – because 72 had such a problem trusting “real people”. I do get it, and it’s a valid point. Our society “others” and separates people based on race and skin tone as well as behavior and physical appearance (like weight, deformity, even hairstyle, etc.). That is a given. And of course… the author had to bring it in somehow, when all the other main characters are white. She might have broached this better if the Latina friend had come along… or there was someone of another race among our trio of adventurers. There is another side to this I can’t tell you about because of spoilers, but something is revealed about another character that furthers the divide between 72 and the other characters, where he can no longer relate to them as he did before, because their “otherness” changes.

Is this a problem, or am I making it a problem? Or is this a very well laid plot point? Being a white girl, I don’t know. I just want to point out this aspect of the story.

I did really enjoy this and I’m looking forward to the next one. I’m really interested to know what you think about this.

Happy Reading!

 

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