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A Reader of Fictions: I Don't Want to Be - Gavin DeGraw

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Friday, August 3, 2012

I Don't Want to Be - Gavin DeGraw

What's Left of Me
The Hybrid Chronicles, Book 1

Author: Kat Zhang
Pages: 356
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: September 18, 2012
Source: Kat Zhang Signing at BEA

Description from Goodreads:
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.

First Sentence: "Addie and I were born into the same body, our souls' ghostly fingers entwined before we gasped our very first breath."

Often, as I'm reading dystopias, I am making a list of all of the elements borrowed from a prior dystopia. Having read so many, coming across a truly original idea is a bit startling and exceedingly impressive. Kat Zhang's book is like none I have read before. What's Left of Me is a story that questions what it means to be a human, to be a soul, and to be normal.

Author Lauren DeStefano is blurbed on the back of my ARC as saying, "A shockingly unique story that redefines what it means to be human." Usually, I ignore blurbs, because they often say so little, and they're often meaningless. This one I agree with wholeheartedly. That sentence captures the essence of What's Left of Me. This dystopia takes on philosophical questions and is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read this year.

In this world, a sort of alternate universe, two souls are born into every body. At the start of life, there are two people in each human frame. As time passes and the body grows, one of the personalities takes over, asserts dominance, and the other one dissipates, gone as though never there. By the age of ten, there should be just one soul where two used to reside; they should settle. Up until that point, the two souls trade off, so that body is sometimes the one and sometimes the other.

Some souls, though, do not settle. Neither soul goes away entirely. These people are called hybrids, and they are unacceptable. Hybrids are dangerous, unstable within themselves, thus unstable in society. The United States does not stand for this, because they are sick of the wars that hybridity brings, as evidenced by the war-torn, hybrid-filled, foreign nations.

Eva and Addie never settled. Eventually, Eva faded into the background and they pretended to be an I instead of a we, an us instead of a me. Eva can do nothing but watch and listen as her sister controls their body, can converse with no one but Addie, in their mental language. What does it mean to be a soul? To be a person? Is it Addie/Eva that's broken or society?

Told from Eva's perspective, What's Left of Me is daring in its storytelling. Never have I read a book written quite this way, just as I've never considered how different life would be with two people inhabiting the one body. Most of the story is told in first person plural, even though we're in Eva's 'mind' so to speak. This writing style never ceased being odd to me, but it always made sense.

Unlike a lot of dystopias, What's Left of Me does not have a ton of action, though there is some. The joy of this novel is philosophical and psychological. There isn't much romance at all, though there are some hints. Of course, how can you have a healthy relationship when your body doesn't belong just to you? Seriously, how crazy to think about is this?

Aside from Eva, and perhaps Ryan, I didn't get a great feel for most of the characters. Eva, our narrator, is so deep within her own thoughts that she doesn't necessarily have a great feel for anyone. I really didn't get a reading on Addie, except to wonder how she became the dominant personality. I suspect Eva probably should have been and may have faded back to save her Addie's soul, but that's all speculation.

Some spoilery thoughts that you'll have to highlight to make legible: The main issue that I had with What's Left of Me was that some things were too easy. When they're all trapped in the mental institution, they get out so simply. You know why? Because the freaking doors to the rooms weren't locked, so they could have late night powwows in the halls. The furniture wasn't nailed down. What kind of institution is this? If they think hybrids are dangerous and might try to escape, they're not going to have such weak security. Speaking of, the place wouldn't almost entirely empty of staff on some nights either.

For those of you that enjoy cerebral reads, What's Left of Me is not to be missed. I am truly in awe of Zhang's mind for coming up with such a creative, astounding idea.

Favorite Quote: "I was terrified. I was eleven years old, and though I'd been told my entire life that it was entirely natural for the recessive soul to fade away, I didn't want to go. I wanted twenty thousand more sunrises, three thousand more hot summer days at the pool. I wanted to know what it was like to have a first kiss. The other recessives were lucky to have disappeared at four or five. They knew less."

"I don't have to be anything other
Than the birth of two souls in one
Part of where I'm going, is knowing where I'm coming from
I don't want to be

Anything other than what I've been trying to be lately

All I have to do
Is think of me and I have peace of mind
I'm tired of looking 'round rooms

Wondering what I've got to do

Or who I'm supposed to be
I don't want to be anything other than me
I'm surrounded by liars everywhere I turn

I'm surrounded by imposters everywhere I turn

I'm surrounded by identity crisis everywhere I turn
Am I the only one who noticed?
I can't be the only one who's learned"

Remember: Every comment on a post during Dystopian August is an entry to win one of fourteen dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels IF you've filled out the form from this post.

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Blogger Lilian said...

OOOOOO!! This one is already on my TBR list! Ever since I saw that amazing cover. I get sold too easily with covers that blend two images.

I'm in. I didn't take philosophy last semester for nothing. LET ALL THE HEADACHES COMMENCE! *dramatic music*

NOT MUCH ROMANCE? I am in again!
I'm not a guy expert, but to them, it might be like: two for the price of one! YAY!

And I actually read like one line of the spoiler text. Because it was gray and it felt like I was peeking at some secret note (like how people write with invisible ink) while not having the guilt from highlight the thing.

Lilian @ A Novel Toybox

August 3, 2012 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger Lilian said...

Oh yeah, I got the first comment! Who's the boss now?

(I promise this is not a spam message to get an extra entry into the Dystopian August giveaway)

August 3, 2012 at 12:14 PM  
Blogger Bekka said...

It's awesome that you love this! It's on my read-a-thon pile for the weekend and I'm even more excited to get to it. I also love that this doesn't center around a romance because I am SO DAMN TIRED of awesome stories/worlds being swallowed up by stupid teenage melodrama.

August 3, 2012 at 12:50 PM  
Blogger kara-karina@Nocturnal Book Reviews said...

Yet another book to add to my wishlist :) Beautiful review, Christina, thank you! It's refreshing to see something more metaphysical in YA market. As Bekka above said, we're all very tired of teenage melodrama.

August 3, 2012 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger aLilLacey said...

This sounds like a can i wrap my head around the idea book. What an interesting concept! I totally man that in a good way. I hate starting a book and feeling like it's a already been there and done that idea. Great review!

August 3, 2012 at 1:14 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I love the cover too. It's totally not my typical cover style, but it fits the book so well!

I love philosophy. This was definitely more about internal dissonance than external issues, although things DO happen in the book, but I imagine those expecting Dualed or The Hunger Games will be disappointed. What's Left of Me is for when you want to have a good think.

Thankfully, the dude is not like that. One of the souls in the dude's body is taciturn and the other is too nice to think like that.

Could you read it without highlighting? I know it's a little visible, but it would be really hard for me to read without highlighting. You'd have to work at it. I just don't want people to see it by accident.

Bahaha, it's not? Fooled me. Also, if you don't win SOMETHING, then the universe hates you. Haha.

Wasn't Tony Danza the boss? Or was it the lady? Or the kid? I never saw the show, so I don't know!

August 3, 2012 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

You definitely would not have been happy with Altered. Aren't you happy to know that?

Romance is DEFINITELY not the main point. There's really not much at all, and the romance that is there is so thought-provoking too.

It is really refreshing to find YA books that aren't written FOR the romance. I like reading romance, but I don't want it to be the MAIN theme, and certainly not in a genred book.

August 3, 2012 at 1:28 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yup. What's Left of Me is very unique! I doubt it will attain the popularity of Divergent, but I liked this so much better, and think it did so much more.

August 3, 2012 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yeah, this really doesn't feel like anything I've read before. Even though I GOT the idea, I still constantly had to readjust my thinking, because it's such a familiar world, but that one change has SUCH a huge impact on everything else!

August 3, 2012 at 1:30 PM  
Blogger Lilian said...

I love a good think.
Or that's what I thought when I registered for PHIL 301. I swear at the end of every class I end up utterly befuddled and thinking "Why am I still in this class again? YOU DON'T EVEN NEED THIS CLASS. WHY DIDN'T YOU DROP IT TO SAVE YOURSELF FROM THIS MISERY?" I can honestly say I have never been so confused in my life--enlightened but I was practically a deer in he headlights. When it came to my final thesis, I felt like whacking my head on the desk.

But then I think many stories can be philosophical if you think about it hard enough. Sometimes I don't even think the story is supposed to even be philosophical.

"Could you read it without highlighting?"
*nod nod* Though nobody would read it on accident though considering I had to squint and tilt the screen to make it out.

"Also, if you don't win SOMETHING, then the universe hates you. "
I would think so too. I know I've squished quite a few cockroaches (in fact I squished one last night) in my lifetime. So if I don't win anything, it will be Karma getting back at me.

August 3, 2012 at 1:46 PM  
Blogger April (BooksandWine) said...

A lot of the books I read don't require a whole lot of heavy philosophical thought, not that that is a bad reflection on those books, but just I prefer lighter fare. From time to time though, I enjoy a good cerebral book. So I guess I am excited for What's Left Of Me and also jealous of your super fast reading and reviewing capabilities.

August 3, 2012 at 2:22 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I LOVE philosophy. I think it's fascinating. Although I LOATHED the only one I took in college because the prof was senile and boring, and the first day when we went in he said 'we're going to assume that certain things are true.' I was all CHICKA WHAT?!?!?!?!

I suspect this one probably is, but what do I know? I'm not Kat Zhang. How about I call it cerebral instead?

You just wanted to do it BECAUSE YOU COULD.

EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW. *shudders* Literally, I just shuddered. Thanks for that.

August 3, 2012 at 2:26 PM  
Blogger Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer said...

Awesome review and I am totally excited about reading this..i love dystopian novels and this sounds fresh and original.

August 3, 2012 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Haha, whatever, you're not too far behind me for books read I don't think, although I should be pulled back ahead after this month, unless my review schedule goes to hell.

I like both deep and light books. I just wanted to make sure people knew what to expect from my review. I think a reader expecting the typical, action-packed YA dystopia would be really unhappy.

August 3, 2012 at 2:43 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Most definitely! Hope you like it!

August 3, 2012 at 2:43 PM  
Blogger Lilian said...

I was lucky with my philosophy professors, they were both cool people.
My logic professor was a new guy, so perhaps he still had this youthful (perhaps naive) enthusiasm. And my Ethic Theory professor loved using pop culture references: South Park, Rambo, Monty Python, Matrix... (and most of the time I would have no idea what hes referring to) But cool guy. Plus, he gave me a B+ even though I was clueless that whole semester.

"You just wanted to do it BECAUSE YOU COULD."
OF COURSE. Obviously, I wanted to show off my keen eyesight. *wink wink* Now, PRAISE ME FOR MY OBSERVATION SKILLS!

You're welcome. But hey, don't hate on cockroaches! They have lives too!
But yeah, they show up in the wrong places (aka in the kitchen), so I have no choice. Stupid cockroaches.

August 3, 2012 at 2:44 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I love pop culture references. They make me gleeful. Thus the Ready Player One love.



*retracts praise*

August 3, 2012 at 2:50 PM  
Blogger Nori said...

Is it weird that this reminds me of Stephanie Meyer's Host (which I actually really loved). The whole not being in control of your own body thing sounds like that. And it just sounds so creepy!

August 3, 2012 at 2:58 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

There have been Host comparisons for that reason, but it definitely reads differently!

August 3, 2012 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger Lilian said...

OH NO YOU DIDN'TTTTT *snaps like a black lady*

*yanks praise back* hmph.

August 3, 2012 at 3:04 PM  
Blogger Kara_Malinczak said...

That writing style does sound jarring. But if it works for you, I am hoping it is going to work for me. I definitely want to read this book. The blurb is fantastic, and a lot of reviewers I trust enjoyed it. Including you. Great review!

August 3, 2012 at 5:53 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

The writing is jarring, but it's not jarring by accident. I think it's that way to remind you of what's really going on, to make you think.

August 3, 2012 at 5:57 PM  
Blogger Christy Maurer said...

Sometimes it is good to read a non-action dystopian novel :) This one sounds very thoughtful, although, you said some of the characters aren't very well developed. I can't stand when I finish a book and end up feeling that way! I'll have to think on this one :)

August 3, 2012 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Well, there will be thinking either way! :-p I don't know that the characters were a huge drawback, except maybe for not having a good handle on Addie. For me, the concept was TOTALLY worth it.

August 4, 2012 at 12:06 AM  
Blogger Christy Maurer said...

Lol true! Good to know that it wasn't a drawback :) I'm 2/3 of the way done with Ashes...have you read that one? I'm loving it so far.

August 4, 2012 at 12:58 PM  
Blogger Alessandra said...

Love love LOVE the One Tree Hill theme song!!!

Philosophical dystopia. Interesting. Two of the books I can't wait for at the moment are this one and Eve and Adam. Isn't it curious, that two books in approximately the same genre, referring to Adam and Eve from the Bible, are released almost at the same time?

August 6, 2012 at 8:51 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I've been completely obsessed with One Tree Hill for the last couple of months. I listened to this song and was all OMG IT WORKS FOR THIS BOOK.

I read your comment about Adam and Eve and I was all, lol whut. So I definitely didn't have any idea this had anything to do with Adam and Eve. BUT ADDIE AND EVA. I have NO CLUE what this means at all, but I bet you're right. This book is EVEN DEEPER than I knew. AHHHH! I want to understand!

August 6, 2012 at 8:56 AM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

This sounds so good! When I reviewed The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna, I thought I was getting this book. (Which I did not regret AT ALL, by the way.) Seeing you like a book makes me feel better about reading it, especially when it comes to dystopias. I think it's the genre where we have the most similarities in taste. lol

August 7, 2012 at 4:09 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Ooh, I've heard such good things about The Lost Girl. If only Harper loved me. Instead, I must wait like a common person. Sigh.

Woo! Yay for dystopias bringing us together!

August 7, 2012 at 4:33 PM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

Harper (heh, I almost typed "herper" *snickers*) doesn't really send me much either. Not that I'm requesting anymore. Anywho, I ended up with that one from the DAC tour thingamajig. I tend to do better when I have a time limit to read something. I seriously needed a time limit for The Lost Girl because I loved it so hard, I could've read it for weeks.

*does the happy dystopia dance*

August 7, 2012 at 4:45 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yay! Looking forward to it!


August 7, 2012 at 5:20 PM  

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