In an alternate future America, everyone is born with two souls in a single body. They are given two names, like the novel’s protagonists, Eva and Addie. But by about age five, one of the personalities fades away—effectively, it dies. The rare “hybrid” children, who grow older with both personalities intact, are considered a menace to society and are whisked away, never to be seen again. The “multiple personalities are banned and the government controls hybrids” premise is not given a detailed explanation, but the reason for the ban is at least given a justification with slightly more substance than the usual “because.”

Eva and Addie seemed on track to become hybrids when they were children. But, realizing that this would doom them, they instead pretended that Eva had faded and died. In fact, the novel is narrated by Eva, who is very much alive. However, she has lost the ability to move their shared body, and exists only as a secret presence, able to communicate with Addie, but with no one else.

This intriguing YA dystopia is both promising and disappointing. It is far better-written than average, has a genuinely clever premise, and avoids a number of stupid tropes which seem almost obligatory in YA dystopias. The unusual choice of narrator— Eva, who lives within Addie’s body— is quite compelling, and their shared existence and peculiar dilemma is handled with a touching emotional realism.

The first third or so of this novel, which simply explores Eva and Addie’s situation, is excellent. However, after that, they spend most of the rest of the novel locked up in a government facility with other hybrid kids. The story becomes much more conventional, moving from an intimate exploration of identity under strange circumstances to a typical “teenagers learn that their dystopia is a dystopia.” Zhang is excellent at little emotional moments, but not so good at action sequences; the book moves away from emotional moments and toward action sequences, to its detriment.

Her choice of plot doesn’t serve her premise as well as it could; it probably needed to be smaller and more character-focused, or else broader and more about social implications. The second two-thirds of the book rest in an in-between place, no longer intimate but without showing much more of the wider world. Also, considering that the entire premise is about two souls in one body, it would have been good if any of the hybrids beside Addie and Eva actually had two souls with noticeably different personalities.

That being said, Zhang is a talented writer, and the premise really is great. I would check out the second book to see if it focuses more on being a double soul, and less on "dystopian governments are bad."

What's Left of Me: The Hybrid Chronicles, Book One


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