A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Lauren Oliver's Replica is a sci-fi thriller about two girls figuring out not only who they are but why they are. The novel has two stories, "Gemma" and "Lyra." Readers can read each separately or alternate chapters between the stories, which -- depending on which story they start with -- gives them four ways to read the book. Gemma's tale has her running away from home to figure out a mystery involving her parents and possibly herself. Lyra's story is about escaping Haven, a research facility that's been her only home for as long as she can remember. The girls encounter each other, and their stories merge as they try to learn more about a dangerous, top-secret project. The stories have romance angles, and while there is little kissing or physical contact, both girls experience a lot of sexual longing and talk about the attractiveness and sexiness of male characters. The girls and their friends encounter many dangerous situations. There's some violence, including a suicide bomber, the aftermath of that bombing (blood and body parts), kids kidnapped at gunpoint, and an attempted abduction. Suspicious deaths are discussed but not shown. Gemma and Lyra are reluctant heroines, who dig deep and realize they're smarter and more resilient than they've given themselves credit for. Interesting discussions around the ethics of cloning, human experimentation, and what makes a person "human" factor heavily into both stories.
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What's the story?
REPLICA contains two separate stories, "Gemma" and "Lyra," each titled after its main character. Gemma is a teen who's had health problems since birth. Her parents are extremely overprotective and secretive, and one evening she overhears a troubling conversation that makes her question her dad's work in medical and pharmaceutical research and her own past. When she runs away to Florida to learn more about a top-secret research facility called Haven, she finds herself embroiled in conspiracy and danger. In Florida, Gemma meets an unusual girl named Lyra, who's escaped from Haven. Lyra's story details her life as a clone (or "replica") at the mysterious Haven and what happens when she and another patient get the opportunity to break out. The two girls' stories overlap, but each girl has a backstory and a personal journey to figure out. Gemma's trying to uncover some missing pieces of her past, and Lyra's trying to learn about what was done to her and others at Haven and whether she can survive in the real world. They are pursued by shadowy characters and face escalating danger as they get closer to the truth of what went on at Haven and how their lives factor into it.
Is it any good?
In these two action-packed, sci-fi stories, Gemma and Lyra find their lives in danger when they work to uncover the truth behind a mysterious research facility. Replica is cleverly devised: The book has two stories, "Gemma" and "Lyra," that can be read separately or as alternating chapters. The format is intriguing but problematic. If readers want to alternate between chapters, they have to flip the book over and keep track of the corresponding spot after every chapter. (This might be easier to manage in ebook format.) The storylines have enough duplication that it makes for a long, sometimes tedious read, no matter whether you alternate chapters or read each one after the other. Also, even though the narrators and some details are different between "Gemma" and "Lyra," once you finish one, you know the general outcome of the other, so it takes away much of the suspense when reading the second story.
On the positive side, both books grab the reader's attention right away, and author Lauren Oliver keeps the action humming along. Of the two books, "Gemma" is more interesting and engaging. Gemma's a relatable and sympathetic character, and her quest to learn more about Haven and her past is exciting. Lyra's story is interesting in the first few chapters, but because she's a replica, her narrative voice is too simple and direct and therefore dull. Both stories end in cliffhangers and leave far too much hanging. They seemed half-finished, almost as though chapters were missing from the book. Replica would have been better as one unified story that answered more of the questions it raises.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why cloning is such a popular theme in science fiction, such as Replica. What might be the consequences of cloning human beings? What kinds of rights should clones have?
Replica is set in the modern-day United States. Do you prefer sci-fi that takes place in completely unreal settings, or do you like books with alternate versions of real life?
Gemma's parents keeps her in the dark about a lot of things. How open do you think parents should be with their kids? How much information do you think teens can handle about their own health and their parents' work lives?
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