Khanh the Killjoy


Replica - Jenna Black I had two misgivings when I started reading this book.1. The genre: YA dystopian is a topic that has always drawn me in; I love the idea of the world falling into chaos and the renewed society that forms from its remnants, but more often not, the YA dystopian novels I've read have left me completely cold, and more often than not, extremely regretful of the time I wasted in reading it.2. The author: no, this is NOT an attack on the author. I will never personally attack an author. I mean that while I try my best not to judge an author by her previous works and to let each book stand on its own, my previous experience with Jenna Black's Faeriewalker YA series was not an altogether positive one. As I said, I try to begin each book without preconceptions, but I am only human; despite my best intentions, I still had my reservations. I am glad to say that my worries about this book were utterly destroyed. Her writing, and particularly, her characterization have grown so tremendously as to be unrecognizable from what I previously read. This book, I am happy to say, exceeded my expectations.The premise: it is a futuristic New York, controlled by corporations. The United States is now the Corporate States. Paxco controls New York, the Empire State Building is now Paxco Headquarters Building. Nathan Hayes (Nate) is the Chairman Heir to Paxco, and Nadia Lake is his best friend and fiancée. Their future marriage is an arranged one, a business agreement. Nate is murdered right off the bat, and I suppose you could say he is "rebooted" as a Replica. You know how we have computer backups? In the future, we are backed up, and Paxco is the sole manufacturer of this technology. It is expensive to be Replicated, and Nate is only the third to be awakened as a Replica, every few months, his memory and body is backed up, but Nate dies before he could save his current memories, so his new Replica doesn't have a clue what is happening since the last backup 3 months ago. The new Nate doesn't retain the current memories, but takes over his life just the same. He and Nadia both set out to discover who killed him. Although they have the same purpose, their reason for uncovering his murderer is different; as their investigation progresses, their paths converge.This book shocked me. In a perfect world, it shouldn't. In a perfect world, I wouldn't even bat an eye to encounter a gay character, much less a leading gay character in a book. However, it is not a perfect world by any means, and this book did a wonderful job of not only incorporating a gay character in it, but did so in a manner that I felt was completely non-stereotypical. Others may disagree with me, but in my personal opinion, Nate is one of the best gay characters I have read in an YA book. He's not a gay character. He is a normal guy, a spoiled brat of a douche, to be sure, but he is just a normal guy who just happens to like guys. He's not into fashion, he's not fruity, he doesn't act "gay." He's an asshat because it's how he was raised; he's not an asshat because of his sexuality. His sexual preference is not a big deal to him, Nadia accepts it, even if she's not happy about it because it's an arranged marriage. Nate knows it would be frowned upon if his sexual proclivities is found out, and guess what? He doesn't care. Nate loves who he loves; everyone else can shove it.Nate is not a perfect character. Ok, I understated that a little bit. Nate is an asshole. He is wealthy, he is spoiled, he is the Chairman Heir, and as such will inherit a fortune and a tremendous amount of power when the time comes. Nate is a jerk, he is selfish, manipulative; everyone has catered to him his whole life. Nobody speaks back to him for fear of retribution. He manipulates and pulls Nadia into his childish plans, but he grows up. Even in his moments of utter selfishness, Nate is self-aware. He knows he's not a good person, he's frustrated at himself for the way he acts, but he doesn't really know how to behave any other way. Nobody thus far has stood up to him before, and he's just not used to people denying him answers."'I'll try to stop being such a jackass,' he said. 'But I miss him. And I'm scared for him. And I'm...angry. That’s no excuse for taking it out on you, I know. You’re the only true friend I have right now.'"Nate's mission is to find out who killed him, and the suspect so far is his former lover, Kurt Bishop, who is on the run. If there is any character in this book who is TSTL, it is Nate. Nate is singlemindedly determined to get answers regarding his death, and he willing to do whatever it takes to get answers. This includes getting himself into all sorts of really dangerous places and situations, and more than once, he gets the crap beaten out of him. And it takes more than a few beatings to grind some sense into his head. Lest I make Nate into a villain, I have to emphasize that he's not. He is selfish, but he learns from his actions, he becomes more aware of the world around him, of the people around him who are less privileged. His sole forays into the "Debasement" opens his eyes to the danger and depravity into the world that the less privileged (or rather, the completely unprivileged) inhabit, and while he is not the fastest learner, he does grow as a character.Nadia is a complete surprise of a character for me. I expected insta-love. I expected stupidity, I expected shallowness. Nope. The first few pages were not promising, because I saw her as a weak, stupid, insipid doormat who gets pulled into schemed by her adored best-friend and fiancé. Nope, false first impression. Instead, I got a very sheltered, innocent girl who has to deal with some difficult issues, and while her actions are not altogether perfect, her sheltered upbringing has to be kept in mind. It is a contrary world; while older sisters can and do inherit empires and the Presidency (like her older sister does), second daughters are treated like they're straight out of a 19th century Regency novel. They are, indeed, expected to be like their 19th century counterpart, demure, smart but not too educated, and all they can hope for, really, is to make an advantegeous marriage. Nadia certainly has; everyone thinks she's won the lottery since she is going to be the future Chairman Spouse with all the power, privilege, and money that comes with it.The summary of the book makes it sound like Nadia is a Paris Hilton-type of socialite. She is not. She is shy, quiet, and hates all the attention paid upon her for being a privileged daughter of the premier Executive family. She is softspoken, and can be a doormat at times (especially when it comes to dealing with the manipulative and controlling Nate), but when it counts, she actually has a backbone, and she is more than able to stand up for herself. More than once, she calls Nate out on his selfishness and his inconsideration when he thinks to bully her into doing what he wants."'You selfish, spoiled, entitled bastard!' she snarled at him, and she looked like she wanted to slap him. 'After everything I've gone through because of you and your stupid little games, you’re going to condemn me without even listening to me? How dare you? I’m not one of your servants, living to fulfill your every desire. I have my own life, my own needs, my own issues, but you never have given a damn about that, have you?'"Her character, like Nate, is not perfect. She keeps too much to herself, she takes on too much, and she is too naive at times. I love the fact that no romance is forced upon us in this book. I expected her to fall instantly for Dante (come on, with a name like that, how could you not expect the worst) but she doesn't, and she retains a good head on her shoulders by questioning him and his purposes. She notes that he is good-looking, but also recognizes in herself that the fact that he doesn't look like the typical Executive boys she knows is part of why he is so appealing to her. Nope, no falling headfirst in love here at all. Romance is very much an afterthought in this book, where Nadia is concerned. Hooray!The mystery was well-done, and really did surprise me in the direction it took. Granted, I'm not the best detective ever. I'm not even a good armchair one. I'm more Aunt Dimity than Sherlock Holmes, but even so, the twists and turns in this book kept me intrigued. It didn't wrap up well, in my opinion, but that didn't keep me from enjoying 90% of the book.Now the negative. What kept this book from being a 5?1. The world building: it's confusing. It is beautifully written and described, in parts, particularly The Basement (Debasement), but otherwise, I didn't get a clear sense of the history of the United States in which the book is set. There's some vague references to individualism being the downfall of the states, but the history given was unclear. We're given 2 social classes, the Basement Dwellers, the Employees, the Executives. It's a little vague, but we do get a sense of disparity and anger between the social classes."'I guess my background isn't that important,' he conceded. 'I was just trying to explain that people like me, people like my family, have shitty, miserable lives working shitty, miserable jobs without ever being able to hope for better, and people like you have everything handed to you on a silver platter just because you happened to be born an Executive.'"But again, no explanation of how such a social class structure came about. A little more history would have been nice.2. Chloe: I was so excited when we first met Chloe. She is black, and one of Nadia's closest friends. It was explained right away when we meet her that her family, the Rathbones, were implicitly the subject of discrimination among the other Executive families. I love that this issue is brought up, since racism even among the upper classes is still a problem today, and I was glad this is not brushed over in this book, in this futuristic setting."Supposedly, racism had been all but abolished in these advanced and civilized times, but the Rathburns were the only black Executive family in Paxco, and Chloe always seemed to hover around the fringes of Executive society."However, that's the limitation of our exposure with Chloe. She's mentioned on and off, but Nadia does not interact with her at all, due to Nadia's ostracized status of being a suspect in Nate's murder, and Chloe's reluctance to get herself involved in any sort of scandal when she's in her crucial years of trying to find an advantegeous marriage. It's sad, Chloe's relationship with Nadia could have been developed so much further. Nadia also doesn't have any female friends whatsoever; there is a decided lack of tolerable females in this book.3. Mosely: the oh-so-evil "bad cop." He's so villainous and acts so mean that it is laughable. He hits girls, he enjoys being a bully, he threatens, he does everything short of twirling his moustache and speaking in a some sort of a Franco-Russian accent. He is altogether unbelievable as a bad guy.4. The ending: but my mouth is sealed on that =)