Kat Zhang's What's Left of Me: The Hybrid Chronicles

I came across Kat Zhang's young adult novel What's Left of Me: The Hybrid Chronicles (HarperCollins, 2012) in the ebook catalog of my local public library as I was downloading books last week for my trans-Pacific journey. The book is the first in a trilogy about an alternate world where people are born with two souls in each body but one soul eventually takes over and the other disappears, a process called settling.

The best part of this novel is its premise, which creates the potential for many intriguing critiques of contemporary society, and I am really quite impressed that the author is so young (still a college student... and she certainly must have been working on this novel while still in high school if not earlier). I think I might be particularly taken with the idea of two souls in one body because I am a twin, and any stories that deal with doubling or halving of one's identity and self always call out to me. The novel would be excellent for science fiction classes to explore politically-engaged novums and narratives.

Like other young adult novels, What's Left of Me features a teenage protagonist--15-year-old Eva who shares a body with Addie. Addie is the dominant soul in their body, but Eva has managed to hang on well after she should have disappeared in the settling. To others, Addie pretends that she is alone in her body, but within she maintains a strong relationship with Eva. Zhang's choice to narrate the story from the perspective of Eva allows for a lot of interesting exploration of how Eva feels to be the silent partner in the body and how she slowly learns to reassert herself in the body.

The plot centers on Eva/Addie's discovery of other hybrids and how this knowledge turns their world upside down. Along with finding others like them, they learn that the world is not what they have been told all their lives.

At a linguistic level, the narrative is interesting for this play between I and we, between the singular first-person point of view and the plural first-person. Eva's voice negotiates the strange blend of her individual consciousness and her shared body. Eva and Addie can talk to each other in their minds, a form of communication only they are privy to but that is not quite verbal communication. It is a type of telepathy although the two girls also can keep their thoughts to themselves and do not share thoughts like one being.

In addition to the important narrative arc of Eva's return to actively using her shared body is the larger story about Eva and Addie's institutionalization at a facility meant to treat hybrids. The world in which they live is dedicated to ridding bodies of this hybridity; it is seen as a dangerous defect (leading to mental illness and violent behavior). The peoples of the Americas, where Eva and Addie live, have been told by the government and media that the world beyond the continents is dangerous territory where hybrids run amok. In this layer of detail, Zhang brings in the possibility of exploring political critiques of xenophobia, immigration, and other issues about global mobility of differently-raced peoples. In the novel, the people of the Americas are mostly white, with anyone exhibiting darker skin, hair, and other physical features seen as suspect (both as outsiders to the Americas and as hybrids).

Overall, this novel was very interesting, and I certainly look forward to the other books in the series. The writing was a bit cliché in places, though, and some passages worked too hard at being lyrical. Eva's voice never fully cohered for me because of these issues, but there is certainly potential for a stronger voice to emerge in the following books.

Here's the publisher's trailer for the novel:

  • Current Mood: impressed impressed
we are totally in the same headspace! I just read this myself! Thanks for the review!