Review: Once We Were by Kat Zhang

Once We WereTitle: Once We Were

Author: Kat Zhang

Genre: Dystopia, Alternate Universe

Publication Date: September 17, 2013

Source: e-ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis: “I’m lucky just to be alive.”

Eva was never supposed to have survived this long. As the recessive soul, she should have faded away years ago. Instead, she lingers in the body she shares with her sister soul, Addie. When the government discovered the truth, they tried to “cure” the girls, but Eva and Addie escaped before the doctors could strip Eva’s soul away.

Now fugitives, Eva and Addie find shelter with a group of hybrids who run an underground resistance. Surrounded by others like them, the girls learn how to temporarily disappear to give each soul some much-needed privacy. Eva is thrilled at the chance to be alone with Ryan, the boy she’s falling for, but troubled by the growing chasm between her and Addie. Despite clashes over their shared body, both girls are eager to join the rebellion.

Yet as they are drawn deeper into the escalating violence, they start to wonder: How far are they willing to go to fight for hybrid freedom? Faced with uncertainty and incredible danger, their answers may tear them apart forever.

☆: 5/5 stars – THIS is the kind of dystopian I want to see more of!

It’s easy to look at dystopian novels nowadays, roll your eyes, and keep going. Many of them sound the same and it’s easy to pick out which books use the dystopia as an obstacle for the romance or the drama, which ones have premises so laughably weak you can write a paper on why it will never happen based on just the jacket copy, and which wants are actually trying to say something about society. Zhang’s masterful Hybrid Chronicles is one of the strongest, if not THE strongest, YA dystopian series on the market right now and there’s nothing about it I don’t love at this point.

Now that Addie and Eva have semi-equal control of their body, they deal with a whole new set of issues, what with Eva liking Ryan and Addie liking a boy who is not Ryan or Devon. Oh, and not telling Eva that for a while. Their struggle with compromise–because they don’t always want the same thing;Eva agrees to foreboding plans Addie strongly disagrees with and both girls start keeping things to themselves when it’s something both girls need to know–is one of the conflicts at the forefront of the novel.

The other major conflict? Oh, some of the hybrids wanting to delve into terrorism in order to show the single-souled populace they refuse to be incarcerated and lobotomized any longer.

Eva/Addie act as more of vehicles through which we get the story instead of an actual character taking part in the action on occasion, but such moments aren’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm for this novel. It may even be better for them to be reduced to this when their fellow hybrids are planning terrorism because we get a greater understanding of how they got to their current mindsets and what the anti-hybrid sentiment has done to them.

What makes this so strong as a dystopian novel is the metaphors through which it examines our world and what might happen if our Islamophobia/xenophobia goes too far. Reading this so soon after the Boston Marathon bombings makes the parallel of hybrid discrimination and Islamophobia/xenophobia even clearer than it was during What’s Left of Me. Once Sabine, Christoph, and like-minded hybrids make their plans and build their bombs, they become the parallel to Islamic extremists in our world. It’s easy to think of Islamic extremists as pure evil, but like the terrorist hybrids, they’re people too. Their motivations may have arisen from maltreatment and they want change, but both the hybrids and the extremists are only going to make things worse and hurt their cause.

The ending leaves where they’re going from here clear about three feet ahead and beyond that, they’ve got to be trailblazers because what they’ve been doing isn’t going to work anymore. I’ll be awaiting and dreading the third and final book of Zhang’s beautiful trilogy in equal measure. Why would I want the only dystopian series I honestly love to end, after all?


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