Review: Replica

Replica by Jenna Black
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For dystopian YA fiction, Replica is average and middle of the road. Some aspects are far superior to other books in the genre, while other elements are decidedly inferior. The plot is overly familiar but the main focus of the story – friendship between a mild mannered female forcibly turned into a formidable foe (ha) and a spoiled gay playboy – is very engaging. There is very little romance and the plot is overtly a mystery in a dystopian setting but the writing is decent and premise offers just enough surprises to keep the story from being dull. I did find my attention wavering and I appreciated that I could put the book down for days at a time until my interest peaked again. That said, I do want to continue with the series and would still recommend this story for dystopian YA fans.

Nate may be the Chairman’s only son but he’s also a notorious playboy. He bucks the system whenever possible and generally tries to make himself known as an irresponsible reprobate. He’s also selfish, thoughtless, and often cruel. However, Nadia knows her fiancé also can be charming, kind, and protective. In the top echelons of society, their every move is watched and discussed so when Nate is murdered and Nadia is questioned, their worlds are thrown into turmoil. When the replica Nate wakes up with no memories of the last two weeks, the friends are desperate to figure out what really happened. Their lives aren’t the only ones being threatened with the secrets they uncover.

The story is told in third person narrator from both Nate and Nadia’s viewpoints. Nate is the son of the Chairman, who rules the state of Paxco also formerly known as New York. In the Dystopian future the US has been torn apart and taken over by corporations that rule former states. The society is a throwback to Victorian with class divides and puritanical morals, not to mention any tolerance for homosexuality. Nate is in love with his butler, Kurt, and hides his true sexuality. He is content to marry Nadia, who knows the truth about Nate and frequently covers for him, since the two are good friends even if they’ll never be lovers. The world building here is decent to good in some spots though there are quite a few holes as well. So much time is spent on the actions of trying to find out who killed the original Nate and why that the world building definitely suffers.

Likewise the characterization is nuanced and actually pretty good. I was left thinking I didn’t know the characters that well but when I thought about their arcs, I realized they were actually pretty well realized. Nadia has a very nice progression from mild mannered, rule abiding 16 y/o to strong, tough, and risk taking. It’s not often females are afforded that kind of growth in a reasonable and understandable way. She has flaws and definitely shows her fear in the appropriate situations but she also grows from meekly agreeing with Nate to make him happy to standing up to him and for herself. Similarly Nate grows from being a spoiled, thoughtless playboy who actually became the thing he thought he was merely portraying to a more thoughtful, careful, and considerate young man. Their friendship is the highlight of the story since they both have very real flaws as well as strengths. It’s not often you see a three dimensional female not stuck into a stereotype as the tag along best friend to the gay character. Nadia is definitely not a tag along and the care her and Nate have for each other shines through. It’s a totally different relationship than Nate has with Kurt, but no less important.

The mystery of who killed Nate is interesting. I kind of guessed the culprit really early on, and cheated to see if I was right, because it really was the only option. However, the story does a decent job of prolonging the action until the inevitable villain confession at the end. The end is a bit overdone with the typical “good vs. evil” showdown and Scooby-doo’ish, idealistic kids winning out over evil corporations and their bottom line. The epilogue actually cheered me because I thought the ending was too cookie cutter until then. I liked the ending but I was glad to see a seed of discontent sown in to make it slightly more palatable.

It’s not often in fiction, let alone YA, that there is a well-written female with a strong relationship to a gay male and it’s not clichéd or a stereotype. Their friendship is the strongest, and best, aspect of the book and worth reading for, in my opinion. The mystery and decent, if slightly weak, world building add to the overall story, making it one I mostly enjoyed reading. I read it at lunch over two weeks so taken in those short bursts worked extremely well for me. I think I’ll read the sequel in much the same manner. I’m not sure it’s strong enough to hold my attention to read all at once but I liked it enough to continue with the series.

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