[This review is angry - it's not meant to insult anybody who enjoyed this book. I NEVER write reviews before I'm done usually, even if I have to skim[This review is angry - it's not meant to insult anybody who enjoyed this book. I NEVER write reviews before I'm done usually, even if I have to skim to get there, but I can't hold myself back.]
The ickiness didn't bother me. The sex didn't bother me. The book bothered me.
I'm not going to rate this (yet) because I haven't finished it (yet). I am, according to my Kindle, at 57%, which is hilarious given that the book is only 330 pages. It has taken me about three months to get this far. This has to be one of the slowest books I've ever read. I'm amazed by the number of incredibly positive reviews among my Goodreads friends, reviewers I really trust, because, frankly, I am BORED RIGID.
I had such high hopes. I loved the premise and I needed it right now, even though I was warned that it was slow, poetic and character-driven rather than horror-ish and intense as it sounds. Except that I think those three things might be synonyms for a book that seems to resent any attempt at plot, dragging along at the pace of mud in November, and characters who are not so much unlikeable as NOT EVEN THERE. Abbott's style is very "literary" (which of course has everybody squealing because it's a potboiler plot married to literary writing and therefore immune to criticism), but it's also frustratingly elliptical and samey. Everybody in Abbott's world a naval-gazer, who cannot so much as pick up their phones without speculating on the cultural implications, even the sex-crazed teenage boy, his sex-crazed sister and their sex-avoiding Biology teacher father.
The wrtiing is good, don't get me wrong, but the plot is what really kills The Fever. It's sort of a mystery, I guessssss, in the loosest sense of the world, in that Deenie's (sex-crazed sister) totally nondescript friends, who have back stories instead of personalities, are stricken by a mysterious illness. What caused it? Is it the lake in which they all swam, the HVP vaccine, sex (which, by the way, is something of a 'theme' in the novel - edgy!), puberty, schizophrenia?
Except, apparently because this is literary instead of a lesser genre like science fiction, horror or mystery, Abbott doesn't have to make any of this believable in any way, even in the loosest sense of the world. I mean, I don't work for a hospital, or the Centre for Disease Control, or whatever. I'm not trying to criticize any of this from a learned standpoint as I just don't know - but, let me tell you, none of it felt REMOTELY plausible to me in the context of a novel. It's full of PEOPLE WHINING, or introspectively speculating on Sex As A Disease, Teenage Girls As Ambiguous and Unknowable Creatures, and the HPV vaccine as a concept and, honestly, Abbott, I like your pretty writing but would it kill you to include even a modicum of plot or character development? Deenie is constantly shafted by her sick friend Gaby, who won't talk to her properly,and Lise is out of commission for like 60% of the part of the novel I read. I don't know these people. I don't care.
I love a good town-hysteria novel but this seemed to come from nowhere. We're not told WHY people think the HVP vaccine could be a cause. We're not told WHY (really) everybody blames the lake, since everybody denies they've ever been there (pull the other one, fools). Outside of some airy-fairy recollections from Tom and Deenie of the glowing of the lake, that's it, we don't hear anything else. It's one thing to have red herrings but, please, they must be remotely logical and operational within the bounds of possibility. Please.
We're supposed to believe that everybody does because Abbott says so. None of it is remotely built up. We're supposed to be invested in the girls' illness because Deenie tells us that they were friends. Similarly, we're supposed to be interested in Deenie, Tom and Eli because they're the main characters.
So, in short, RIGHT NOW, the plot is nothing but air. The characters are doing nothing but whining, moaning and boring the hell out of me. The relationships are non-existent. The Emperor's New Clothes....more
I went backwards and forwards on the rating. I originally rated it 4 stars because I don't like the "sitting on the fence" tone of a 3-star r3.5 stars
I went backwards and forwards on the rating. I originally rated it 4 stars because I don't like the "sitting on the fence" tone of a 3-star review. I am glad that my Goodreads friends liked this, and I'm not surprised that they did, but "What's Left of Me" is not the kind of book I would ever normally read: a dystopian thriller with a truly interesting premise, but I feel conflicted because I truly do think that Zhang is an amazing writer and the right kind of reader will love this. Because I think one of the main reasons I didn't like this book was the series nature ~ I promised myself I would stay away from series novels because I just don't like that half-finished, incomplete nature of them. Zhang was good at this, but the book still felt kind of like treading water - setting up and getting ready for the good stuff to happen in Book 2.
Zhang is a truly superb writer. I'm a twin, and the Hybrid novels have this fantastic and deeply resonant subtext with me, as Eva and Addie are like twins sharing one body. When Eva talked about the push and pull of their relationship, the wall that would come down between them and their intricate bond is beautiful. Eva and Addie are the most important person in each other's lives, and that never changes, not even as their romantic subplots develop. How amazing - a dystopian novel where two characters manage to share one brain yet keep control of it. They need it each other, they love each other and it is perfectly written. My heart ached with the beautiful description of their bond and their shared strength. This one hurt, but so beautifully.
The beauty of the writing made me wish I could nod my head to the beats of the plot a little more easily.
I am not a fussy one for world-building in YA dystopian. I was always terrible at biology/chemistry/general how-the-world-works, and I can never apply any of my physics knowledge to a fictional setting. I have no problem accepting the Game of Thrones world, with its extended seasons and bizarre logic. When reading, I am one of those, "if you write it, I will believe it" readers. Yet something felt fundamentally impossible at the heart of the Hybrid chronicles. Hybrids are separate souls in one body. They have hopes, dreams and emotions that are entirely separate from one another. Eva cannot control Addie's body at will, but the other Hybrids are able to take control of one another as they wish. As Eva notes, she and Addie can barely agree on anything, and that's when she's weak enough to remain the recessive soul in the body with no true power. So what is so horrendous about trying to get rid of one soul?
That might sound fundamentally horrible. But, seriously, my sister and I once had a total vicious physical fight because I thought she'd hidden my towel (turns out it was under my bed...oops). If we were in one body, it would be the craziest, most inconsistent and self-destructive body ever. The emotional impact must be horrendous but, to me, it seemed like a necessary evil. An evil, but an unavoidable one to maintain a stable society. But, even then, what was so wrong with hybrids? Is it a racism metaphor? After all, colour is only skin deep - but it didn't stop the repeated discrimination against them for such a long time. Perhaps, but it still felt seriously shaky and both elements undermined the impact of the general, overarching plot for me.
Also, unfortunately, the blurb on Edelweiss compares "What's Left of Me" to "Northern Lights" (yes, shut up, I'm English and it's not The Golden Compass). It is an apt comparison - perhaps a little too apt. The latter half of the novel felt very...heavily "inspired" by "Northern Lights." On its own, the Hybrid Chronicles has a great and unique plot. However, when Addie and Eva is shipped to a mysterious hospital (like the hospital for children with daemons in "Northern Lights") where children undergo invasive and brutal surgery at the hands of shadowy doctors and nurses. It's a small complaint, but it nagged at the back of my mind while reading, especially as Addie and Eva's proposed escape from the hospital reminded me a lot of Lyra's in "Northern Lights", and it spoiled my enjoyment.
The other big thing that bugged me even though it perhaps shouldn't was the Hero Syndrome that afflicted Eva throughout the last segment of the novel. It was a faucet of her personality that hadn't been explored really at all up until it became necessary for the plot but...it just felt very necessary to the plot. It was like, as soon as Addie and Eva found a way that they were going to get out of their situation, Eva had to go and dig a bigger hole for herself. Of course, YA protaganists are frequently kick-ass, deeply noble and caring in a perhaps excessive way. Yet it seemed to occur too often in "What's Left of Me", to the point where Eva's own nobility seemed to pad out the plot in a slightly idiotic manner. ...more