Saturday, April 27, 2013

MILA 2.0

I wasn't sure I could suspend disbelief fully enough to enjoy MILA 2.0, a young adult novel by Debra Driza. I was simultaneously intrigued by and wary of the premise: a teenage girl suddenly discovers that she is not quite human and that the life she thinks she's lived is false. Robots who can think for themselves and who have emotions are intriguing, but I find the idea of them really hard to buy into. After all, as much as we like to play what-if and pretend it's possible, technology isn't human and never will be. And, great, now I sound like the bad guys in I, Robot and all those books and movies that keep exploring the idea of sentient machines. The thing is, I have no problem suspending disbelief for other types of fantasy with creatures I'm sure don't exist. I wonder if the difference in my perception is based in my belief system. I believe I have a soul created by God, and I don't like the idea of Man creating sentient beings because I'm not sure God would gift those beings with souls, too. Still, we're talking about science fiction here; it's not real. So, I do suspend disbelief as much as I am able, and despite my misgivings, I can say that I did enjoy MILA 2.0's exploration of what it means to be human.

(This paragraph contains some SPOILERS related to the first quarter of the book. Read why in the following paragraph.) The story begins with Mila and her mother adjusting to a new life in a cozy town in Minnesota. They are grieving the death of Mila's father and trying to move on, even though parts of Mila's memory are missing. Aside from strict demands from her mother, Mila is enjoying her new life and making friends when an accident turns everything upside down. As her strange abilities surface and her identity comes to light, she begins to unravel as she realizes everything she's known is a lie. But losing it is not an option when her secret leaks to the wrong people, forcing Mila and her mother to go on the run.

This is all the set-up of the story, and much of it was vaguely revealed on the cover of the advance reader's copy I read. Also, the book's title, MILA 2.0, is rather revealing. But the set-up takes nearly 100 pages, and it's only then, for sure, that Mila finds out who she is. So, there's some heavy dramatic irony throughout the whole first part of the book since the reader begins the story knowing more about Mila than she herself does. I almost didn't want to tell you anything about the plot because it all feels like spoilers. But I can't be spoiling much more than the cover of the book already does. And I kind of understand the need to advertise the book as being about a robot; you sort of want to know that up front. So, then, the author and her editing team were left with a dilemma: reveal some spoilers and let the character's journey toward revelation, and what happens afterward (which is plenty), carry the book or shroud the book's genre in mystery and reveal the secrets slowly. I, personally, think I would have liked to be surprised as I read because I hate spoilers. But that begs the question: would I have picked up the book in the first place? Can't say for sure.

Regardless, once you've established that Mila is, indeed, a robot, the most unique aspect of the story is the way Mila's emotions come into play. She thinks and feels like a regular teenage girl. She fully believes she is human and can't come to terms with the fact that she's not, even after there's proof. After all, no one can manufacture feelings, right? They are hers and hers alone, and how is that not human? She must face the question: can a machine love? Does she deserve a normal life, or must she fulfill the purpose she was made for? The book explores these questions very believably. In short, despite my misgivings about the book's premise, it was handled in a way that didn't turn me off and that was entertaining, as well.

MILA 2.0 reminds me of another young adult book I read last year about a cloned teenage girl, born already grown in a lab, who suddenly discovered she could think for herself. Though that book, Beta, was an enjoyable 3-star read, I didn't want a repeat, and I'm happy to say this book distinguishes itself. I wouldn't mind finishing this trilogy as it is released. MILA 2.0 is the first and came out in March. But due to the spoiler-ish way this book is advertised as well as the moral snag of whether machines might be able to have souls or not, I give this one only three stars, as well.

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