You or your Alt? Only one will survive.
The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.
Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.
Elsie Chapman’s suspenseful YA debut weaves unexpected romance into a novel full of fast-paced action and thought-provoking philosophy. When the story ends, discussions will begin about this future society where every adult is a murderer and every child knows there is another out there who just might be better.
At the beginning of this book, I hated West. She makes the same dumb mistakes that every dystopian protag makes, believing they’re more skilled than they are, letting emotions rule when they’d be better served by just listening. I understand she is a teenager, but she is a teenager in a dystopian world trained to be ready to kill another human who looks like her. I feel as though she should have been more disciplined. And, in her grief after the death of her last relative, a death in which she plays a part, she starts destroying books, and I sort of lost patience with her. I know, I know. Be patient with the girl who just lost her brother. I tried. And eventually, I was sucked into the story. I don’t like starting my reviews off with complaints, so let me just say that this is the first book to pull me in since, oh, late 2012? (Don’t take this personally; I’m planning a wedding and that really burns a girl out.) I really liked the setting, how Chapman seemed to have really thought out her worldbuilding (minus the shoddy science, which I’ll get to more in depth later), and how West narrates the tale. I said I hated her, but I didn’t, not really, I was just annoyed with her at first. She was one heroine whose I head I didn’t mind being stuck in.
The pacing of this book is fantastic, and a lot of new writers could learn from Chapman’s quick storytelling. From Luc’s death to striker to active, West’s story happens really fast, and I enjoyed it. I also liked how up close and personal Chapman took us to the deaths by West’s hand and how they affected our protag. After my initial doubts, I started liking West a lot. The only lingering annoyance I had was how West was so insistent she be involved in Chord’s activation, and then she refuses to allow him to repay the favor. She’s hurt from the loss of her brother, but her stubbornness made me a little crazy. She’s dishonoring her brother by ignoring his words to her, in my opinion. And, unrelatedly, something I wished had been different about the narration was being able to see inside West’s Alt’s head. I think alternating points of view would have worked out really well in this novel and helped to show us the humanity of all the children, not just our protagonists. I wish we had gotten to see more of West’s fleeing from her Alt, but the ten days we do see was pretty intense anyway. West seems eerily uncaring when it comes to her Alt, and that was just one of the whys I had in my head while reading this book. Why did she go on and on about how stupid it is to put off meeting your Alt when you become active, and then does it herself? So while I liked West, she was incredibly frustrating and hard to get close to. Another problem I had was the “love story.” There’s very little in the way of romance in this one, so we’re expected to believe that Chord and West are in love without really being shown why or how. We’re told they’re in love, and we have to accept that. Which, fine. He’s all she’s got, she’s always felt some kind of affection for him, so love seems to be the next logical step.
Something else I had a hard time with was the why of the whole thing, the entire novel, the plot, the science. We know why the Capitol continues to enforce The Hunger Games, because it’s devastating punishment to the Districts for daring to revolt and is a way to keep them in their place, but Kresh’s system of pitting children against each other didn’t make sense. It can’t be true that the best Alt always wins, and I have a hard time believing that people, like West, would be so broken up about the deaths of their friends and siblings if your whole life was spent training and expecting Alts to die. Shouldn’t they be prepared for this sort of thing? Wouldn’t they all be hardened to the deaths of their brothers, because they didn’t know which Alt was the best? That didn’t work for me. Plus the science of the whole thing was kind of silly. Two genetically identical children born from two sets of genetically different parents? And why would anyone bother to have children if they were just going to be sent off to murder another one someday? It was hard to process. Plus, these kids were in no way evenly matched. Most that West meets or talks about are terrified, not ready, or weak, which doesn’t make sense to me since these kids know from day one that they will someday have to kill or be killed.
There was a lot of potential in this book that I didn’t think was lived up to in any meaningful way, especially when it came to West. I still enjoyed my time in Kersh though, and I think you will too.