The Similars by Rebecca Hanover

I was super pumped heading into this novel, wind fully in my sails, excited for my first YA novel of 2019. A sci-fi thriller about cloning, identity and elite private school drama? My name might as well have been written in high lighter across the cover with neon arrows pointing me towards the first page.

The first chapter really did hook me. I appreciated the surliness of Emmaline, our heroine with a chip on her shoulder. Her best friend Oliver recently committed suicide, which is hard enough to handle on its own without the added pressure of the newest Darkwood Boarding School arrivals. The clones, or Similars, are exact replicas of six of Darkwood’s most erudite and popular students. One of them is an exact replica of Oliver, Emmaline’s dead best friend.

Super-science and cloning novels are usually rife with moral dilemmas and ethical quandaries. The main reason to write about cloning and AI is to have a discussion about what humanity actually is, the continuing evolution of our definition of life. Anything that might have been related to depth was tampered down with twisty plot, annoyingly obvious side stepping and the characters’ sophomoric antics. The only part that resembled a thoughtful nuance was when the students argue in class about clones rights. Clones are people too, etc.

So after a bunch of really benign twists and turns that take up half the book, we come to the actual meat of the novel. A mad scientist on an island clones superhumans from the memory of former students he went to school with at Darkwood. It’s like a diluted and dumbed down version of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. The end.

Questions for anyone who makes it through the novel without skimming the last few chapters like I had to:

  • What is the point of the Ten? The Ten is an honor society composed of the top ten in Darkwood’s academic stratum. They meet at midnight (why?) to pull pranks on each other and discuss their right to bully other students. There’s also a long storied history of the Ten which includes (gasp) all of the current Ten’s parents! Wow this conspiracy goes way back.
  • Why introduce futuristic technology if only to replicate things we already have–like classic DNA testing?
  • Why have a truth-telling serum just so Emma can never use it to solve major plot points?

I gave this two stars. One because I finished it (hooray!) and the second because of the one scene of interesting dialogue about human/clone rights. If you’re still dying to read this before it becomes a summer blockbuster, borrow it from your local library.

Thanks to NetGalley for the pre-publication copy in exchange for an honest review.

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