Replica is a new book by Lauren Oliver, the first of a new Young Adult series. I was extremely excited for this book having loved Delirium and Pandemonium several years ago. After acquiring an ARC, it shot right to the top of the queue. It took a while to read thanks to some outside goings-on, but I finished it yesterday and I loved it, through and through. It made me remember why I loved Delirium all those years ago.
Gemma Ives doesn’t feel like she belongs. She was born into wealth thanks to her father’s history with Fine & Ives, a pharmaceutical company that manufactures everyday toiletries and more complex drugs alike. Since her childhood, Gemma has suffered from numerous ailments and illnesses. She is overweight and heavily scarred and her classmates call her Frankenstein to her face. One day, someone throws a weighted Frankenstein mask through their window with a vicious note. This leads Gemma to discover some info about her parents, bringing her on a quest to investigate her Father’s involvement in Haven, an institution in Florida.
Lyra was born at Haven, a place where there are others like her. She used to only be a number but she claimed her name from the stars after a doctor gave it to her. She is fascinated by reading and particularly loves The Little Prince. She doesn’t know anything other than Haven, but that all changes one fated day when an explosion rips her world apart.
Replica is not a traditionally told story. It follows two narrators, Gemma and Lyra, through their misadventures to suss out the activities of the mysterious Haven institute. What Oliver does differently is that she formats the story to be read at the reader’s choice. Both the narrators have a stream of storytelling, one on one side of the book and the other on the flip side of the back of the book. She does not tell you where to start, nor how to read it. You can read one chapter at a time from either perspective, you can read one entire perspective at a time before doing the other. You can skip around, as I did, and read bits at a time until you come to a natural stopping point. I started with Lyra, read five chapters before switching to Gemma, where I also read five chapters before switching back. Once establishing the base story, I think I then went down to three chapters apiece until the very end, where I just alternated single chapters outright. There is no right way to do this. I realized early on I didn’t want one perspective to spoil the story in the other perspective, but that is all me.
Gemma and Lyra’s stories connect seamlessly, wind around other like double helixes. They are interchangeable and symbiotic, each one’s tale informing the other’s. As such, there is a natural progression to the story, a push-me-pull-me sense of urgency that lends itself well. Without reading one the other’s story would be a mystery and vice versa. There would be many unanswered questions if Oliver had chosen to only write this book halfway.
Both have sad, insurmountable things to their tales. Gemma’s life seems charmed but has so much corrosion underneath the surface. She is a product of her environment; an anxious, self-medicating mother; a distant, controlling father. Her strength of character seems mutable in the beginning as she derides herself for her own being. The small, subtle instances of self-loathing, the body-shaming, the over-awareness of herself around others, how she must look, how she must not eat around others, how she worries about her clothes fitting, are all little things that make her seem more real. Lyra, by contrast, seems completely unaware of herself and her own place in the world. She uses very basic, but bleak, language about herself, mostly things that don’t solidify her as a person. This in itself is a very telling technique – using sparsity to convey intent. Lyra has never felt that she earned or has a place in our world and it shows. She comes-of-age in this novel, fleshes out, creates new contours and new dimensions and new boundaries the longer she is away from her home. Both women help the other become new people and neither could do it on their own.
There is a subtle poignancy to this book, a masterful brush stroke of characterization, nuance, and craft. It is a really fun book to read and plays well into reader-response criticism theory. I don’t think there is any way that the same person could read this book a like-way twice, nor do I think multiple people will garner the same reading experience out of it. As it is structured it is meant to be an organic thing rather than an inert, and that plays so much into what this book can become. It changes as the reader goes, it grows. It is a living, breathing thing.
I loved it. I want to see what Oliver does next with this idea. Will she return to the same characters? Will there be two new people to take us on another fabulous and epic journey? Only time will tell.
5 out of 5 stars. You’ve gotta read this one.
– Follow the Reader –