Friday, November 2, 2012


Rachel Cohn's Beta, advertised recently in Entertainment Weekly, is another one of those young adult dystopian novels that are so popular now, but this one has an interesting protagonist: a clone, just days old, in the body of a female teenager.

Elysia might be only a few days old, but she's been programmed to act her age. She's got everything--looks, physique, manners--everything but a soul. Clones do whatever humans tell them to do. They are property. But they can have good lives. For one, they live in a beautiful paradise, only accessible to rich humans, and without souls, they have no wants and desires. As long as they do their jobs, which they are programmed to do, life is bliss for the humans and as good as it needs to be for an emotionless, unfeeling clone. So, when Elysia begins to want things, she knows something terrible is wrong with her, which puts her in grave danger. The clones that don't work are sent to the infirmary, where they are practically tortured in order to discover what went wrong. For a clone who feels things, that is a very undesirable fate. Elysia must hide her big secret, but maybe there are others like her out there. Maybe there is a life she can have. Because the one she has isn't enough. Slavery isn't a life.

This book is not the next best thing in YA fiction, but it's relatively entertaining. The moral question of cloning is tackled head-on. Can a clone have a soul? Is it right to clone? If we did, how would we treat clones? With a clone protagonist, the book obviously favors one side of the issue over the other. In reality, though, we don't know the answers because we haven't yet cloned humans (to my knowledge). But scientists keep trying to find a way to do it. If they succeeded, would God breathe a soul into their creation? Interesting food for thought.

As far as other morality in the book goes, slavery seems to be the author's main concern. Clones become whatever you want them to be, including objects of sexual pleasure (for humans, of course). The book's morals clearly don't agree with that, but as with many young adult books, teenage sex, as long as it is performed by two loving partners with mutual consent, is okay. The book doesn't actually go all the way there (though there is a rape scene), but the implication that it would be acceptable is presented. There is also drug use with a rather mixed message, in my opinion. Obviously, our culture agrees it's bad, and that comes across in the book. But in regards to the clones, it almost seems like a good thing. I won't spoil any more than that. There may be more revealed on that end further on in the series, of which Beta is the first.

It was unique to get inside Elysia's head, not knowing exactly what sort of species she is. She's not human because she was born 16, or so. But she has human emotions. She often expresses things in terms of her programming. In some ways, she seems like a robot. Overall, I wasn't sure what to make of her. I liked her, but I did feel like she wasn't human. And I don't know if she is supposed to be.

Other than Elysia's character and what she knows or discovers, there's not a lot of development of the dystopian world. But I guess that's to be expected when your main character is a teenager; a teen's focus is narrow. There's a lot that could be talked about in future novels. This book takes place in a dystopian paradise, but much of the rest of the world is less idyllic and more post-post-apocalyptic (meaning life has been renewed after Earth's destruction). I'm curious to know if we'll get to see more of this in a broader story.

I give the novel three stars for an intriguing heroine.

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