Author: Debra Driza
Genre: YA, mystery, thriller, sci-fi, biopunk, cyberpunk
Publication Date: March 12, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)
Source: Edelweiss Review Copy/Publisher-provided ARC
Summary: Mila was never meant to learn the truth about her identity. She was a girl living with her mother in a small Minnesota town. She was supposed to forget her past —that she was built in a secret computer science lab and programmed to do things real people would never do.
Now she has no choice but to run—from the dangerous operatives who want her terminated because she knows too much and from a mysterious group that wants to capture her alive and unlock her advanced technology. However, what Mila’s becoming is beyond anyone’s imagination, including her own, and it just might save her life.
☆: 4/5 stars – a pretty awesome debut from Driza!
Review: Wow. I didn’t expect to like this one so much, guys, after so many of my friends here were giving it 3 stars (or less). But I really did. I can also see why this was given a TV deal/development before publication – because it’s awesome. While I feel like it could have used one more clean edit before getting to the ARC stage of things, I otherwise really liked pretty much all of this book. The “Bourne Identity” comparison made in the blurb is actually pretty accurate. If you’re looking for a fun new thriller series with a delightful twist, give “Mila 2.0” a try.
Okay, so, I have to admit – this plot was pretty ambitious, and Driza mostly pulled it off. While there were some areas that could have used more work, most of it was spectacular and a lot of fun – particularly the action scenes and chase sequences. LOVED those. In that sense, I definitely think that “Mila” has crossover appeal in terms of readership – this one will most likely attract a good male readership as well. Which, in YA, we kinda need. And it’s rare to find a good book that all genders will like.
What needed work: two of the kinda important characters to the first third of the book – Hunter and Kaylee. Hunter gets set up as the love interest, and Kaylee as the best friend, and I felt both were pretty (almost shockingly) underdeveloped, to the point where it felt like until Mila’s true nature was revealed, they were kind of propping her up or providing a personality comparison to Mila herself. Hunter gets a little more love later in the book, but he really should have gotten that in the first fourth, and there was a hint of insta-love (keyword here being: hint) about their relationship before Driza finally started giving us the meat of things with their interactions. And Kaylee…well, if Driza was aiming for the stereotypical turn-on-you-at-any-moment mean girl, she definitely nailed that one. But Kaylee was the least developed of all, and considering she acts as a good foil to Mila during the first fourth, she just needed more depth other than her shoes, her mean girl-ness, and her boy craziness. However, once Mila and Mom go on the run, the action starts, the characters do get a bit more filled out and complex (which was very gratifying to see) and it all comes together in a pretty explosive ending.
But what might have seemed shaky in that first fourth really started getting going in that second fourth and from there on in? Total thrill ride with pretty much non-stop action. While I feel like Ipod Man was a bit of a device in which to give us an infodump (which could have been a bit better distributed in that one particular chapter), otherwise, I feel like many of the big reveals concerning Mila, her mother, and everyone else was pretty well balanced in distribution. There’s a sense of the unreliable narrator about Mila (which is one of my favorite motifs when telling a story) – it does keep you on your heels, and frequently. Because along with Mila, we’re trying to figure out – what’s real, and what’s been manufactured? Who’s telling the truth? Who’s lying?
And to the heart of the book – what decides humanity in a post-human world? We’re getting more digital, more robotic all the time with our constant connection to our devices, and we’re having artificial things implanted inside of us to compensate for failing flesh and organs. Who decides our humanity? When Mila 3.0 (also known as Three) is dropped into the mix, we see what Mila (or, by the time we’re back with the military, known as Two) used to be, and what still could be in her future. The test between her and Three really hits home the differences between them, and what humanity might be made of – feels. Lots and lots of feels. Anger, hurt, love, sorrow – all of these help make us who we are, along with our choices. Sounds preachy when I say it, but Driza very masterfully helps weave it so that it doesn’t sound that way. Which, let’s be honest, is good for YA – “morals of the story” are not. But Driza gets away with it by making us wonder if Mila might not be just another pinocchio, slowly turning into a real girl bit by bit.
The other technical areas in this book (sensory language and plot)? Pretty much flawless, though sometimes it was a bit on the lagging side. Which is understandable considering this book’s length and how ambitious it is. A little lag now and then isn’t terrible, and this book really only had one or two areas were it did feel a bit too slow.
While the first book does feel like it has a bit of a decisive end (a good move on Driza’s part in case the series hadn’t gotten picked up for another book by the publisher), I can definitely see lots and lots of room for more shenanigans in subsequent books. I can’t wait for book two, and I can’t wait for this TV series that’s in development as I write this. I’m pretty excited. It’s hard to mix biopunk (and discussion of bio-ethics), cyberpunk, YA, romance, and action/thriller all into one delicious mix, but Driza pulled it off, and my hat goes off to her for doing so. This was a breath of fresh air we needed.
So, final verdict? If you’re a fan of hard sci-fi and feel it’s lacking in YA? Read this book. I think you’ll be pleased to find that it’s a little slice of redemption in a genre overrun with PNR and insta-love. While not perfect, I still really enjoyed it because it was so much fun (and that’s why it’s made my best of 2013 list). “Mila 2.0” is out March 12, 2013 from HarperTeen, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance!