I had Beta on my Kindle for weeks before I read it, but once I started, I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t realize it’s author was the same Rachel Cohn who brought us Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist and the like. This science fiction departure was one of the stand out dystopias I read this year (and I’ve read a lot, just to keep up with patrons at the library, who can’t seem to get enough of this genre).
Elysia is created in a laboratory, born as a sixteen-year-old girl, an empty vessel with no life experience to draw from. She is a Beta, an experimental model of a teenage clone. She was replicated from another teenage girl, who had to die in order for Elysia to exist.
Elysia’s purpose is to serve the inhabitants of Demesne, an island paradise for the wealthiest people on earth. Everything about Demesne is bioengineered for perfection. Even the air induces a strange, euphoric high, which only the island’s workers–soulless clones like Elysia–are immune to.
At first, Elysia’s life is idyllic and pampered. But she soon sees that Demesne’s human residents, who should want for nothing, yearn. But for what, exactly? She also comes to realize that beneath the island’s flawless exterior, there is an under-current of discontent among Demesne’s worker clones. She knows she is soulless and cannot feel and should not care–so why are overpowering sensations cloud-ing Elysia’s mind?
If anyone discovers that Elysia isn’t the unfeeling clone she must pretend to be, she will suffer a fate too terrible to imagine. When her one chance at happiness is ripped away with breathtaking cruelty, emotions she’s always had but never understood are unleashed. As rage, terror, and desire threaten to overwhelm her, Elysia must find the will to survive.
The first in a dazzlingly original science fiction series from best-selling author Rachel Cohn, Beta is a haunting, unforgettable story of courage and love in a corrupted world.
Beta is set on the otherworldly island of Demesne, where the air is so full of oxygen, the environment so lush, it seems like paradise. The island is staffed by clones made from the bodies of those who have died, and these clones serve the elite humans who make Demesne their home. Elysia is one of the first teen clones, making her a Beta. Despite the risk, she is purchased by the wife of the governor of the island as a sort of replacement for her daughter who has gone to study on the mainland. Elysia wants nothing more to please her new family so she can keep her coveted role as one of the family and avoid the manual labor and servitude that is the lot of others of her kind.
The narration is believable and immediate. I was completely swept away in Elysia’s point-of-view. Her reaction to this world seems fitting of someone who has only just recently become a part of it.
The world-building is subtle yet complete. It seems very believable that this technology could be developed in the future, and that the rich and famous would use their power to construct an ideal offshore community after the mainland has been ravaged by war and natural disasters. I felt that from the very beginning, Cohn was planting the seeds of rebellion.
This books is definitely mature YA. While some books I’ve reviewed recently, like Tiger Lily and The Shadow Society, I feel are appropriate for those as young as 12, Beta is not one of those books. There is significant sexual overtones and the physical act is described in detail, not to mention a rape scene (believable and handled well, I thought) and drug use (which is integral to the story).
The plot twists at the end hit you in quick succession—Bam! Bam! Bam! and left me dying for the sequel. Ultimately the character of Elysia and her strong voice are what will bring me back for the rest of the trilogy.
I received a copy from the publisher for review via Netgalley.