“From Lauren Oliver, New York Times bestselling author of Before I Fall and the Delirium trilogy, comes an epic, masterful novel that explores issues of individuality, identity, and humanity. Replica is a “flip book” that contains two narratives in one, and it is the first in a duology. Turn the book one way and read Lyra’s story; turn the book over and upside down and read Gemma’s story. The stories can be read separately, one after the other, or in alternating chapters. The two distinct parts of this astonishing novel combine to produce an unforgettable journey. Even the innovative book jacket mirrors and extends the reading experience.
Lyra’s story begins in the Haven Institute, a building tucked away on a private island off the coast of Florida that from a distance looks serene and even beautiful. But up close the locked doors, military guards, and biohazard suits tell a different story. In truth, Haven is a clandestine research facility where thousands of replicas, or human models, are born, raised, and observed. When a surprise attack is launched on Haven, two of its young experimental subjects—Lyra, or 24, and the boy known only as 72—manage to escape.
Gemma has been in and out of hospitals for as long as she can remember. A lonely teen, her life is circumscribed by home, school, and her best friend, April. But after she is nearly abducted by a stranger claiming to know her, Gemma starts to investigate her family’s past and discovers her father’s mysterious connection to the secretive Haven research facility. Hungry for answers, she travels to Florida, only to stumble upon two replicas and a completely new set of questions.
While the stories of Lyra and Gemma mirror each other, each contains breathtaking revelations critically important to the other story. Replica is an ambitious, thought-provoking masterwork.”
My Thoughts: There is no doubt that Lauren Oliver’s latest novel is ambitious. After all, Replica is really two novels under one cover. Lyra’s and Gemma’s stories may overlap to some extent, but each girl’s version of the events that bring them together starts and ends at different points, with differing understandings given their own personal histories. While Ms. Oliver could easily have incorporated both stories into one full narrative, splitting them out provides an element of “choose your own adventure” that adds to the entertainment and allows readers to dictate the reading pace and structure. Plus, by keeping them separate, it reiterates the message that Gemma and Lyra are two girls with vastly different life experiences.
It is not necessary to read both novels in order to understand what is happening in either narrative, but one gets a much more complete picture upon reading both of them. Haven Institute, its origins, and its research remain nebulous with only one of the girls’ stories. In that regard, Replica is really a play on the idea that it is impossible to know all sides of a story no matter how empathetic one is. Even after getting both sides of the story, there are other parts of Haven Institute that will remain unknown until another character reveals those secrets to either or both of the girls. However, that there is more than meets the eye about what we do know at the end of both stories is abundantly clear.
What is remarkable about Replica is the two very different tones between Gemma’s tale and Lyra’s. Both girls are in danger, hunted by the same people, far away from everything that is familiar, and forced to deal with one shocking truth after another. Yet, Gemma’s tale is much more suspenseful with the danger more real. It is as if, having had a more traditional upbringing, Gemma has more to lose should she be caught by the people chasing her. Lyra’s version does not have that suspense. One feels pity for her given everything she has had to endure and the truths to which she was subjected. Even though she is in more mortal peril should she be caught, one does not experience the rush of fear or adrenaline during her escape. Between the pity, the sense that she is living on borrowed time anyway, and a curiosity to see the world through her unique perspective, the suspense and danger disappear.
The one main weakness of Replica is how rushed it is. Both stories move along at breakneck speed, almost too much so. There were more than a few times where I had to review past sections to make sure I did not accidentally skim over a key point because I seemingly missed a connection and was confused how the story got to that point. The plot moves so fast sometimes that you have to suspend belief at times as well. To make matters worse, there are a lack of details that would help clarify some of the scenes. As it is a duology, one expects a lack of answers in certain areas. However, the general confusion created by a plot that moves too quickly to be entirely believable along with a lack of description adds complexity to an already complicated story.
Most of Replica is an action-adventure, as both Gemma and Lyra find themselves on the run from mysterious but apparently dangerous foes from Haven Institute. What Replica should be is a study on what makes someone human. There is a philosophical argument to Haven and Lyra’s entire life that is seemingly lost due to the various chase scenes and flights to safety. Given the fact that the doctors at Haven are studying human clones, one expects more in the way of ethical debate or at least more chance to reflect on the ethical challenges presented by the existence of Haven. Hopefully, there is more of this in the follow-up novel and fewer chase scenes.
Replica is at the very least creative and entertaining as only action-adventures can be. Lyra is particularly tragic and highly sympathetic, and her observations about life are gut-wrenching. Gemma remains a more mysterious character, but Lyra is much more sympathetic. The story ends with the knowledge that there are plenty of secrets that remain, and that both Gemma’s and Lyra’s stories are far from over. It will be interesting to see what the finale holds for the girls.