Review: Once We Were by Kat Zhang
Release date: September 17th, 2013
Series: #2 in the Hybrid Chronicles
Source: ARC from BEA
Rating: A slow beginning and somewhat "meh" characters are overcome by an AWESOME ending and world-building that makes me think.
"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.
My review of What's Left of Me
*spoilers for book one below*
The cover: I love these covers. They are so unique and seem the capture the spirit of these novels: two girls struggling to find out who they are when they're so tangled up in someone else, when they are someone else.
The story: I'm not really sure how to organize my thoughts for this book. On the one hand, Zhang sets up some truly moving and deep philosophical questions (the whole two souls, one body thing is pretty complicated), and her writing is exquisite. On the other hand, the pacing for Once We Were was almost turgid at times, and I failed to connect until the latter half of the novel. But oh, what a latter half it is. It almost makes up for the many, many talking scenes we get.
Perhaps I've been spoiled by the action-packed, quick-moving books I've read lately. Maybe I'm lazy and impatient and our culture is dangerously addicted to instant-gratifications and we can't handle. Whatever the reason, the beginning of Once We Were was a bit of a struggle for me. Addie and Eva, twin souls, have escaped from Nornand, the hospital in which they were imprisoned, along with Devon/Ryan (Ryan is the soul that Eva liiiikes) and his sister Hally/Lissa. They are safely hidden in a city with other hybrids who are working underground to rescue as many children as they can.
Maybe I struggled so much because I really couldn't remember that much from What's Left of Me, and none of these characters have ever really popped for me. They don't pop much in Once We Were, either, and it's especially difficult when nearly every character is two for the price of one. I felt a lack of emotional connection, which is usually a dealbreaker for me, except that I was invested in one thing: Eva and Addie's relationship.
In Once We Were, this relationship is tested pretty strenuously. These girls are more than sisters; they are quite literally soul mates. But Addie and Eva don't always want the same things. Eva, dormant for so long, is now eager to take action to help the underground cause. Addie feels ignored by Eva and like her separate desires are being pushed to the background. A new wrench is thrown into the mix when Eva and Addie learn that for small amounts of time, one of the souls is able to "disappear", leaving one girl completely in charge while the other vanishes into a dreamlike state. While this is good for Eva and Ryan's romance (can you IMAGINE making out with someone who has another person in their brain that you DON'T want to make out with while YOU have another person in your brain who doesn't want to make out with either of them??? ARGH), it also sets up new and troubling situations for Eva and Addie. Namely, that they can know completely keep secrets from one another.
|Addie and Eva do a lot of internal arguing in Once We Were.|
I loved reading about the conflicts between Eva and Addie, because the complexities of their dynamic (and all the other hybrids) are the most fascinating part of the book. I don't completely buy all of Zhang's other world-building, but when it comes to the mindsets, feelings, and conflicts of the hybrids, I feel like she nailed it. So much of What's Left of Me was about Eva fighting for her right to be alive and independent. Once We Were shifts the focus to both Addie and Eva as they try to determine who they are separately and together, and what they want to do in the world. Whether they want to fight or run. And if they choose to fight, just how far they're willing to go.
The other hybrids are all a bit faceless to me, to be honest. I remember really loving Hally/Lissa in the first book, but their personalities seemed quite indistinct in this one Devon, on the other hand, is probably my new favorite. And while parts of What's Left of Me truly broke my heart, I never got those levels of feels from Once We Were.
Once the action begins, in the last third or so of the book, things get really exciting. Obviously, I can't say anything about it, but you should know that your patience through the slow and thoughtful beginning is worth it. Zhang's prose is also stunning. Her descriptions are not as lush as they were in What's Left of Me, but every now and then I'd be bowled over by a specific phrase or word choice. The dreamlike moments, where Eva has disappeared to give Addie some privacy, are written in poetry form, and they're truly beautiful. There's definitely a soft-ish cliffhanger at the end, but that just serves to leave me excited for book three, where I hope the action revs up fully and the scale of the plot gets bigger. But overall, Once We Were was a positive read for me, even if it didn't blow me away.