Return to Me: Justina Chen
Growing Bookworms Newsletter: January 30

Beta: Rachel Cohn

Book: Beta
Author: Rachel Cohn
Pages: 336
Age Range: 14 and up 

Rachel Cohn's Beta, the first installment in a new YA dystopia series, is exactly the kind of book that I enjoy. It's set in a post-apocalypse, high-tech world, and features both action and ethical questions (about the nature and treatment of clones). Elysia looks and feels like a 16-year-old girl (somewhat), but she was actually born in a laboratory on the posh island enclave of Demesne. She is a "Beta", one of the first clones to be copied from a teenager. Adult clones do all of the mundane work on the island. Elysia is purchased by the wife of the Governor. She is meant to be a sort of replacement for the family's teenage daughter, now off in college on the Mainland. This makes her part servant and part pseudo-family member. And, of course, 100% property. 

The clones on Demesne are supposed to exist to blindly serve the humans. When Elysia starts to have thoughts and feelings of her own, she finds out just how dangerous humans can be.

Cohn renders the island setting vividly, like this:

"I have never lived anywhere but Demesne so I cannot compare it to other places, but even without a chip telling me so, I think I could understand that this island is an ideal, an embodiment of perfection. Breathig in the silken air is like having warm honey trickling sweetly down your throat. The contrast of colors--Io's violet-blue, the lush green plants and tall trees, the flowers' bursting plumes of bright pinks, yellows, oranges, reds, purples, and golds everywhere--intoxicates the eyes." (Chapter 1)

I like that Demesne is beautiful and apparently safe. This is a nice contrast from some of the physically bleak dystopias I've read of late (though of course there's a darker underside). I found some echoes of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, which I also enjoyed. 

I like Elysia's voice. WIthout sounding completely wooden, she also doesn't sound quite like a human teen. She has gaps in her knowledge that sometimes lend humor. Like this:

"It's like my wiring is tripping all over itself. My chip tells me to express delight at the humans' food, but my stomach says it is indeed delighted. Whoever invented adding melted cheese over starchy goodness was surely the most brilliant human ever." (Chapter 5)

"Now that I've learned what sarcasm is and that it cannot cause physical injury, I have privately renamed this lady Mrs. Red While for the amount of pinot noir she drinks while complaining about pretty much any topic up for discussion." (Chapter 12)

The plot in Beta has quite a few threads, some of which are left open for the next book. It's a fast-paced, entertaining read, and I look forward to the next installment. I also found the lack of implied judgement around the societal developments (impact of global warming, etc.) refreshing. 

That said, there are a couple of things that didn't quite work for me. One was that the book is set well into the future, after The Water Wars. Demesne is part of a whole new chain of islands that emerged from the ocean. There have been some big technological advances, like the method of copying newly dead people to create clones. But ... the day to day technology, and the way people speak, just didn't see that different from today. This felt like a disconnect, though I understand why the book is written this way (practicality and accessibility). I also found Elysia to become a bit ... easy for my personal taste, as the book progresses. I agree with the Amazon classification of this as a book for ages 14 and up. There's a fair bit of sex, and although there's not a lot of violence what there is is a bit disturbing.  

Beta doesn't explore the science aspects of the situation very much (how the clones are created, exactly). People looking for pure science ficiton may be disappointed. But people looking for an engaging novel with an intriguing premise and an unusual and memorable heroine will want to bive Beta a look. I liked it. 

Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: October 16, 2012
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).