Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: "The Replacement" by Brenna Yovanoff

Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.

Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate's baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.

Edward Scissorhands meets The Catcher in the Rye in this wildly imaginative and frighteningly beautiful horror novel about an unusual boy and his search for a place to belong.

This blog is really dedicated to "clean" YA books: minimal or no bad language, no underage drinking or drug use, and no nekkidness...
This book doesn't count as clean. I decided I'd go ahead and post the review since I'd already written it and it might be helpful to someone.
I bought this book because of the amazing cover art, and the back cover excerpt:
"In the story, Emma's four years old. She gets out of bed and pads across the floor in her footie pajamas. When she reaches her hand between the bars, the thing in the crib moves closer. It tries to bite her and she takes her hands out again but doesn't back away. They spend all night looking at each other in the dark. In the morning, the thing still crouches on the lamb-and-duckling mattress pad, staring at her. It isn't her brother. It's me."
So after that, I was expecting something creepy, and it certainly was that.
First, what I liked:
*I liked that Mackie Doyle, a changeling from an underground world, is really and truly loved by his sister Emma even though she's known from the start that he isn't the boy who was her brother. I thought Emma was the best character in the book because she was so real, warm, and loving.
*I liked that Mackie's parents know he's not human, but do their best to be a family anyway.
*I liked the writing style of the book for the most part. Brenna Yovanoff has a very definite mood going here. It happens to be dreary, lonely, and angst-ridden for the majority of the story, but she's skillful at creating the tone. And there's a great sense of place and wonderfully descriptive writing that really adds to the story.
*I appreciate the idea that you don't have to be what others think you'll be. When Mackie realizes we all have choices, he steps up and decides to do what's right even though the odds against him being able to change things seem overwhelming.

Now, what I didn't like:
*There was a lot of profanity for a YA book. At least there was a lot more than what I usually read in the genre. I realize this is a personal preference, but one thing I like about YA novels as a rule is that people don't curse a lot and usually keep their clothes on. Your mileage may vary. And there was a lot of underage drinking. A lot. I know it's realistic, but it didn't contribute to the plot so I thought it was unnecessary.
*I didn't really like Tate, Mackie's love interest. I understand she's a strong female character--who can wield a crowbar when necessary!-- who has also been damaged by the loss of her sister but I got the impression she wasn't prickly and caustic because of this loss. I felt like that was just her normal personality, and I don't enjoy hard and cynical characters.
*The pacing was a little uneven. It felt like the book could've been moved a long more if Mackie hadn't spent so much time feeling physically and/or emotionally terrible.
*The climactic graveyard scene was just gruesome. I don't know how else to put it, but I'm not a fan of gore.
There were a couple of questions that nagged at me---minor spoilers ahead---
One character had lived in the underworld as a child but was released. Why in the world did she stay to build her adult life in the town of Gentry since it is so intimately and apparently permanently connected to the darkness that lies beneath it? Wouldn't anyone rational have hopped on a Greyhound and gotten the heck out of there as soon as they were able?
Also, and this is probably nit-picky, it bothered me a bit that Mackie never wonders about who his parents were in the underworld. We're told he was used as a replacement child because that's what they do with the "sickly" children from down below. So I started wondering about his origins, and if his birth parents are still around, will he ever meet them, etc.
And this is something I always wonder when fictional heroes are facing characters who can't handle steel: Why doesn't someone get a gun? I mean, instead of trying to sneak around with kitchen knives, can't someone get their hands on a pistol and take the baddies out?
This is not a badly written book and it has an interesting plot and some very unusual characters. It just wasn't for me.

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