I was provided with an ARC of this book by Accent Press in exchange for an honest review.
I thought the synopsis of this sounded really interesting – clones in general are such a fascinating topic, and this was a really interesting approach to them, where the facility wasn’t even sure if they were humans/people/alive, rather than just a collection of spare parts. I was on board from the off, and excited to start this near-future thriller. Just to note – Labs refers to the clones, and non-Labs to non-clones.
It is 2060. Scientific advancements mean that human cloning is much more than a possibility. But what happens when unscrupulous people take that technology into their own hands?
Fifteen-year-old Stella runs away from home the night before she is due to be taken into care. Fending for herself, she runs across a group of teenagers living in a hidden camp. They are the Labs – clones secretly made to replace the body parts or attributes of the rich and famous – who have escaped the sinister ‘Centre’ where they were created. Led by two of the Labs, Abel and Celia, the group assimilates into human culture with Stella’s help.
But the Centre is looking for them – and there are still many more clones inside, facing certain death once they are no longer useful. When Abel leads a rescue attempt, things don’t go as planned, and the fight for the Labs to be recognised as equal to humans seems to be doomed to failure – can Stella and her friends reveal the truth and find a voice for themselves in a mistrustful world?
There was lots in this book that I found really fascinating. The problem of youths falling through cracks in culture was the beginning, with Stella/Ruby struggling to find her place after the loss of her family, and her abandonment of society in general as she tries to make her own way. I also liked the general societal innovations such as self-drive cars, and the medical developments which allowed for the cloning issue to arise.
There were a lot of interesting discussions on the personhood and nationality of clones, the terminology, the classification of clones, the identification of what is a clone, how they would relate to their source, and the family of that source. Several clones are presented with differing situtations with regard to their host/origin, and each is nicely played out in terms of how the scenarios might be considered. As a dystopia, this was an interesting premise, as the society considered how it would view the Labs, as compared to their non-Lab counterparts, and the issues that would arise from granting personhood to Labs.
I also really liked the self-identification of Labs. Rather than calling themselves clones, they came up with their own word, and fought to be recognised as that – a struggle which I felt was really well-played, in terms of identifying and unifying this marginalised group. The book also didn’t skim over the discrimination which Labs faced, with major characters facing backlash and suspicion over their origin and personhood.
But there was a lot I found quite weak in this book, too. The motivations of the characters seemed, at times, extremely thin. Relationships were established and developed in almost no time. Although the clones are all supposed to be around 16 years old, engagement, pregnancy, and serious long-term relationships are all presented as perfectly standard and acceptable. While I realise that 16 year olds can and do get pregnant and married, these clones have only just discovered the non-Lab world, and none were presented as vulnerable people, open to predators who could take advantage of that vulnerability, but rather each was presented as having found someone who would accept them as they are and develop a fulfilling and beautiful relationship. With so many Labs out in the world, it certainly seems like some of them would’ve wound up in a less than ideal situation.I also couldn’t get behind Ruby and Abel – Abe/Abel was a total dick to her, for no reason other than this own personal prejudice, and their relationship was also completely lacking motivation or credibility.
Thirdly, the fact that all the Labs took new names was, at times, terribly confusing. I realise that it was essential for the story, but having only just gotten used to one set of names, it was infuriating to have to adapt to a new set very soon in.
Lastly, the developments in the latter part of the book were interesting, but lacking motivation. It certainly felt to me like the climax of the book was rushed and much less believable than the earlier parts of the book which dealt with assimilation, passing as non-Labs, etc. I really failed to understand the motivations of the ‘villains’ of the final act, and wasn’t convinced by their actions.
Nonetheless, this was still a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking debut novel from Accent YA. It was certainly left open for sequels, with new relationships and issues to be developed in the coming books, and I would be interested to read them. Funnily enough, for a story about clones, what I felt was lacking was the human element of friendships, relationships, and character development. But I think that there is a huge amount of potential in both this story and this writer, so I will be very much looking forward to seeing what she produces next.