Friday, November 19, 2010

Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Double Identity is a strange exploration of the issue of cloning and especially cloning humans.
Just before Bethany Cole's 13th birthday, her parents pack her into the family car and drive thousands of miles nonstop to the small town of Sanderfield, Illinois. Once there, she is left with Myrlie an aunt she has never met, with no explanations, some strange bits of conversation overheard and no idea when or even if her parents will return. Overhearing her father mention that she "does not know about Elizabeth" only adds to her fears. Who is Elizabeth?
The puzzles deepens as Bethany discovers her aunt seems to know many of her personal perferences and that she seems to resemble someone familiar to Sanderfield residents. When Bethany receives a package from her father containing 4 different sets of ID and a large amount of cash, the mystery and fear escalate. Who are her parents running from and why have they hidden her here?
Haddix gradually reveals who Elizabeth is (although the reader likely figures this one out very quickly), who Bethany is and the tragedy that led to the secret now unraveling Bethany's family and life. But the mystery of why her parents are in hiding is not revealed until the very end and in a somewhat contrived manner.
Double Identity explores issues of identity, selfworth and especially how new reproductive/scientific technologies might impact the people created by their use.
Athough this novel was written in 2005, we are beginning to experience a consideration of these issues in society at large today. Children created through the use of artificial insemination (AI) from anonymous sperm donors are seeking the right to know details about their biological father. They are asking society to consider the rights of the child and the right to know who he or she is.
Similarly Bethany feels betrayed and as though she has no real, unique self or value. But by the end of the novel, she begins to discover that her life had meaning before and will continue to do so.
I am thirteen years old now - nearly thirteen and a half. And with each second that passes, I mover further into territory Elizabeth never entered. Nobody knows what Elizabeth would have been like at fourteen, at fifteen, at sixteen. She is a ghost that will haunt me less and less, the older I get.

Although the ending is somewhat contrived and it seems that events come together in a too easy manner, this conclusion is typically satisfying. There is lots to think about here, in particular, the age old question regarding the use of scientific technology; just because we are capable of doing something, does this mean we ought to do it?

Book Details:

Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Toronto
218pp