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 r...more3.5 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. (less)