Lauren Oliver’s Replica follows the story of two characters, Lyra and Gemma. Lyra, who goes by 24, is an experimental subject, or replica, housed in the military-secured Haven Institute off the coast of modern-day Florida. Lyra, along with other replicas, are subjected to a daily regime of cognitive tests by luke-warm medical professionals. The other story follows Gemma, an illness-prone teen girl, kept under strict house rules by her overprotective parents. One day, she is nearly kidnapped by a man who wants to learn more about the Haven Institute. She learns of her father’s involvement with the institute and runs away to Florida, where she meets Lyra.
In a February 2016 Entertainment Weekly article, Oliver talks of the particular way of presenting this narrative: the story is split into two books combined into one that can be read in whichever order or in alternating chapters. She explains that time progresses at the same speed in both stories.
Reading the story straight through, beginning with Lyra’s and then Gemma’s, Lyra’s story is the most interesting of the two. Lyra and the other replicas negotiate their surroundings with their limited vocabulary (calling the security cameras “glass eyes” and naming themselves after brand names such as Palmolive and Lilac Springs), which makes for a compelling narrative. Gemma’s story, however, is dull until it is punctuated by her near kidnapping and escape to Florida. Had this been read in the suggested alternating chapters method as prescribed by Oliver, the mundane aspects of Gemma’s life may have complimented the rather alien circumstances and mystery of Lyra’s story. Though not a big fan of sci-fi thrillers, this book kept my attention and made me want to find out what happens to these two characters in Oliver’s planned sequel Simulation.
Lily and Dunkin
In Donna Gephart’s Lily and Dunkin, the book alternates narratives between the two titular characters. Lily is a transgender girl who desperately wants to start hormone blockers before puberty changes her body. Dunkin, who is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and plays with his medication to get a competitive edge in basketball, tries to navigate his place among his new friends who routinely bully Lily. Though in different social circles, the two characters have an affinity for each other, at times deflecting attention and defending each other when possible.
Gephart sources inspiration from two events in her life. Lily’s story originated at an independent film festival where Gephart saw a film about a transgender girl. This compelled Gephart to look into the lives of transgender women (namely Jazz Jennings, Janet Mock, Jennifer Finney Boylan, and others) through memoirs, numerous support groups, and interviews with psychiatrists. Dunkin’s story was based on her experience raising a son who was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Not only does Gephart use her family’s experience to create Dunkin, she also uses the numerous support groups that she attended. So how well does this factor into Gephart’s story?
Gephart does a good job at giving each character their own space and voice, though, there were parts of the story that gave this reviewer pause. In a scene that created the most duress for Lily, she is sexually harassed and physically assaulted in the boys’ locker room of her school, resulting in forced nudity and her butt being slapped. After the incident, Lily laments that though she took a shower, she still felt dirty. This incident compels Lily to feign illness to avoid school the next day. Eventually the bullies apologize. From assault to apology, this situation wraps-up too quickly, leaving a strong sense of justice unsatiated.
Dunkin’s story involves a somewhat unrealistic plot regarding his father. Spolier alert: Dunkin’s father killed himself, though Dunkin believes that he was institutionalized. This revelation comes to him only after he himself is institutionalized from a break down he suffers at a basketball game; a result of neglecting his medication. His doctor informs him that blocking out his father’s death was a defense mechanism that only he could break through. This plot suffers from the same problem of Lily’s in that it felt rushed, as well as being somewhat half-baked.
Regardless of its faults, Lily and Dunkin is a wonderful story with intricate and deep characters. You become invested in the relationship between Lily and the tree that connects her with the memory of her grandfather. You become invested in what happens to Dunkin as he gradually loses his bearing with reality. The story ends in a hopeful note: that this is only the beginning of many wonderful things to take place.
Genre-wise, fiction will also be this reviewer’s bag. A rich story of two characters with nuance without the backdrop of mystery or a dystopia is just tops. Lily and Dunkin is my pick between these two books. Notwithstanding the problematic parts mentioned, this story is bright, humorous, and hopeful. Lily and Dunkin carry their emotional weight well, finding a silver lining in the most complicated circumstances. This, to the reviewer, is why Lily and Dunkin is a winner.