I should not exist. But I do.
Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .
For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable – hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.
You can read an excerpt here.
It’s a rare and wondrous thing these days for me to crack open a dystopian YA and not end up being disappointed on some level, but happily What’s Left of Me proved to be just such an exception. This book fires on all cylinders from the start, with an interesting premise, a believable society built on fear of the “other,” a lovely sense of tension and paranoia as Addie/Eva have to wonder if they really are wrong/sick/broken/dangerous, and stakes that rise with each chapter, as their risk of discovery steadily mounts. All in all it makes for a fun story that delivers across the board.
I really was just entertained by this story – it has a simple yet fascinating idea at its core, and it doesn’t waste any time getting down to business. It’s a lean, mean kind of narrative – one that definitely leans towards the thriller end of the spectrum – so of course the trade-off is that we never get more than a quick glance at the history, politics, and social mores of Eva and Addie’s world. But that said, I had no problems at all buying into the premise, and no logic bumps whatsoever – and logic problems are often a HUGE issue for me when reading dystopian YAs. Overall, I just trusted this story, in that the world felt rock-steady, and everything made sense. Now yes, at times I did find myself wishing for more scope and breadth, but the fact that I never lost interest, and never doubted that there was more to it all, more to be seen, is a testament to Zhang’s world-building, even in a story that opted for impetus over depth.
And of course the heart of this story lies with the wonderful identity crises at its core. I loved both Addie and Eva, and I loved how impossible their situation was – for one to live fully, the other had to loose everything, and how can you take everything away from someone you love, someone vital to you? Especially when you can FEEL what it does to them? Oh, it was brilliant – and add to that the guilt and shame and fear wrapped up in simply being what they were, which according to their world was WRONG in every way, and the courage it took for them to dare to be who they are made for a very powerful, very emotional story. The play of pronouns in this story is particularly telling, in how the transition from we to I, from you to us, brilliantly underscores their struggle to define and accept themselves, both together and apart. And the courage it took them both to fight for each other, even when it could cost them everything, was lovely – on top of which, it was just wonderful to read a story where the sister/best friend relationship took center stage, instead of the usual World-Ending Romance. I just loved it – the fracturing of identity, the pressure-cooker of social expectations bearing down, demanding that they conform, that they Do and Be The Right Thing no matter what is costs them, and the courage it takes for them both to defy their entire world, it was all wonderful, and it absolutely made this book for me.
So yes, What’s Left of Me is a dystopian that just works – it has action, a plausible, fascinating premise, a lovely sci-fi tinge, and two characters you simply have to root for. I love what Zhang brought to this story, and I definitely will be keeping an eye out for her in the future.
Byrt Grade: A-
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
Zhang’s concept is original and provocative; the deep bond between Eva and Addie (the shifts between I, we, and she in Eva’s narration are especially haunting) and the mystery about why their society is so desperate to “fix” hybrids are riveting.
I found this book to be quite creepy and emotional and moving all at the same time. I really felt for Eva, and the way that she has been treated for years. I found it really touching that this story is told from Eva’s point of view. Hers is a voice that isn’t heard aloud anymore, but she is the one telling this story.
A thought-provoking first installment in a series that unflinchingly takes on ethically challenging topics.