From a distance, the Haven Institute, tucked away on a private island off the coast of Florida, looks serene and even beautiful. But up close the locked doors, military guards, and biohazard suits tell a different story. In truth, it is a clandestine research facility where thousands of replicas, or human models, are born, raised, and observed.
But when a surprise attack is launched on Haven, two of its young experimental subjects—Lyra, or 24, and the boy known only as 72—manage to escape. As they make their way through a new and menacing environment, they meet a stranger named Gemma, who has embarked on a perilous quest of her own. And as Lyra tries to understand Haven’s purpose, she uncovers earth-shattering secrets that will change the lives of both girls.
Gemma has been in and out of hospitals her whole life. A sickly child, she has grown into a lonely adolescent whose life is circumscribed by home, school, and her best friend, April.
But after she is nearly abducted by a stranger claiming to know her, Gemma starts to investigate her family’s past and discovers her father’s mysterious connection to the secretive Haven research facility. Hungry for answers, she travels to Florida, only to stumble upon two human models, or replicas, 24 and 72—and a completely new set of questions. As Gemma tries to unravel the mysteries of Haven, she learnes terrible truths about herself and her family that will threaten to destroy everything she loves.
Two girls, two stories, one novel.
If you love novels based on a conspiracy theory angle, it is a pretty good bet you will love Replica. Now, the specialty of Replica is a dual POV storyline that intersects but is kept apart as two different books. Lyra’s part is like science fiction dystopia, while Gemma’s part is part-mystery, part-on-the-run adventure. Lyra was a subject in Haven, a facility that secretly creates and houses genetic clones. The clones, called Replicas, are stripped off any human rights, are told they have no existence in reality and that they are less than human. The majority of the world, however, is unaware of their existence save for their investors, shady military types and conspiracy theorists.
While the book can be read any way you like – one part, then the other, or in alternating chapters, I started with Lyra, read until chapter 9 (where the two stories first intersect) and then switched to Gemma, read until the same stage of the story, and then alternated. The reason I advocate for this is because Lyra’s part sets the stage for the reveals that Gemma’s parts bring in that initial stage. After that alternating is the best way to connect the threads being unraveled in either part. Lyra’s is the more dynamic part, with her life in Haven and then her life in the outside world. Even so, it is an emotional arc, too, because here is a person who was stripped of personhood, learning her individuality. Gemma’s part is more of a personal arc, where she is setting out to find out the truth about her life, to find out what her parents are hiding from her. She is a very empathic person, and immediately bonds to Lyra, making herself her protector.
The story works on a science fiction background – of cloning and human experimentation, and the bounds of ethics. There is a religious aspect to it as well, with the religious nuts who see the replicas as abominations, to even Lyra considering them forsaken from the God of humans, and instead considering their creator (the scientist) the god for the replicas. It also alludes to some ethical issues frequently raised in the scientific research community when it comes to using human tissue or cells for research. The science of cloning, though, and programmable cloning at that, is still pretty much in infancy. The timeline of the hiding of the science and the creation of the methods doesn’t fit, not when there are actual labs in countries with limited oversight that work close to this field. It also relies heavily on the Evil Greedy Scientist trope, which I’m frankly tired of in science fiction novels.
Coming to the characters, there is an intense connection between Gemma and Lyra because of their intertwining status. Their lives and backstories are a big question mark in neon and then it gets all entangled with the information they unearth. There are other secondary characters, but they serve more like love interests which doesn’t fully serve the purpose of the plot and emphasizes romantic love in a plot about acceptance and love. Honestly, if 72 was instead a non-romantic partner and Lyra was made queer, it would have been more believable (esp since Lyra was in a gender segregated dorm and hello, big opportunity to have a f/f romance plotline instead!). Gemma’s love life was also complicated, with her being attracted to every guy in her age group, but kudos for the chubby girl rep.
Replica sets a good storyline, and the dual story plotline is certaily interesting, but not novel. Also, since the alternating chapters don’t align in the timeline exactly, sometimes a tense moment in the one person’s chapters loses it gravity because it was spoiled in another’s chapter. But in full, this book is pretty good and it sets an interesting plotline in a contemporary setting.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from HarperCollins, via Edelweiss.