Monday, November 28, 2016

Replica by Lauren Oliver

Replica is Lauren Oliver's newest young adult offering. The novel is described as a "flip book" with two stories that can be read either separately or interchangeably, one or multiple chapters at a time.

Sixteen year old Gemma Ives lives in a beautiful mansion in North Carolina with her mom, Kristina and her father Geoffrey who co-founded the sixth largest pharmaceutical company, Fine & Ives. Gemma's health has never been good. She's overweight and because of her numerous health issues she's not allowed to participate in gym. Her best friend is April Ruiz, a dark haired beauty.  Both April and Gemma have overly protective parents.  Gemma had resigned herself to spending spring break at home but April managed to convince both their parents to allow them to drive to Bowling Springs, Florida where April's grandparents lived. They plan to leave on Saturday April 19.

When Gemma arrives home from school on the Friday she finds the police at her house investigating a threatening act of vandalism in which a Frankenstein mask was thrown through a window and a note stating "your sick your a monster you deserve to die"  Gemma believes the perpetrator of this was mean girl Chloe DeWitt however she overhears her father and mother talking about the break-in that evening. Her father insists that this is a message for him. From their conversation, Gemma learns that there was a breach at Haven and that "one of them escaped". Although her father believes "it won't live. No way it can live." he is concerned he will be in serious trouble if what is going on at Haven is discovered. That's because he knew what Saperstein was doing with the new funding even though he left the pharmaceutical company, Fine and Ives that he helped found. Gemma has no idea what her parents are discussing but what happened ends up affecting her spring break plans. Because Bowling Springs is only fifty miles from Haven, Gemma's parents decide to pull her from her spring break trip.

Gemma is completely desolate at losing her chance to spend the break with April. On her third day into break she is accosted by a strange man who seems vaguely familiar to her,  who knows her name and who questions her about Haven. She is able to get away and goes into the Quick-Mart where a classmate, Pete Rogers works, to call her mother.

That night, Gemma begins researching into Haven, Dr. Saperstein and her father's former company Fine & Ives. She learns the Haven Institute is a research facility located on Spruce Island in Florida, founded by Richard Haven. Haven died in a car accident the year Gemma was born and was replaced by Dr. Mark Saperstein whom Gemma's father knew. She also discovers that her father's company Fine & Ives Pharmaceuticals had contracted Haven to undertake the company's research but this was years after her father left the company over the direction it was taking. What interests Gemma is the conspiracy websites, specifically by Jacob Witz. Witz had tracked down a "Nurse M" who worked at Haven but before he could interview her she was found dead from suicide.

Pete Rogers shows up at Gemma's home that evening to return her change and for a tour of her palatial home. When he mentions that he's leaving for Florida in the morning, Gemma decides that she needs to get to Florida and to Spruce Island to learn what she can about Haven Institute.  Pete agrees to take her and the next morning, Gemma quietly leaves her home and the two drive to Florida. On the way down they learn there has been an explosion off Barrel Key and fire burning out of control on Spruce Island. Pete realizes this is where Gemma is planning to go. 

When Gemma arrives in Barrel Key,  Haven is on fire and a huge demonstration is occurring. She manages to convince Pete to drop her off and Gemma finds a way down to the beach. It is here she meets Jake Witz who tells her he can get her much closer to Haven. He indicates the none of the staff at Haven will talk about what goes on there, except for Nurse M. After spending hours kayaking through the marsh, they hear voices and hide in the mangrove trees. Can Gemma figure out what's really going on at Haven and what her connection is to the facility?


Lyra lives in the Haven Institute. Demonstrators on the shores of Barrel Key can often be heard chanting and calling them demons and monsters and Lyra believes they are probably right. She awakens one night to the power going off and the nurses coming to check their room to ensure they are all present. There is a Code Black which means that someone has escaped and Lyra learns later on that is is number 72. 

To Lyra there are two kinds of humans: "natural-born humans" and "human models, males and females made in the laboratory, transferred to the surrogate birthers who lived in the barracks." These latter humans are clones, but at Haven they are called replicas. Each replica is referred to by a model and a number.  Lyra and the other replicas believed the numbers were their names but Dr. O'Donnell  named the replicas after different constellations and she also taught Lyra how to read. One of the replicas named by Dr. O'Donnell is number six who is called Cassiopeia. Eventually, Dr. O'Donnell left Haven because Dr. Saperstein was unhappy with the way she helped the replicas.

Replicas often have serious medical problems such as organ failure. Lyra has been experiencing nausea and vomiting but when she's examined by Nurse Swineherd she doesn't tell her about this. Eventually Lyra's vomiting is discovered and she is taken to the hospital which she calls the Box. Later that night when Lyra feels nauseous she decides to go outside to vomit. When she returns she finds Cassiopeia in an altercation with Dr. Saperstein and the nurses who have discovered she has been hiding objects in her mattress. The next day Lyra decides to hide her special belongings on the north part of the island and it is there she discovers the missing male number 72. It is a this point that there is a huge explosion at Haven. Three bombs are detonated at the facility utterly destroying it. Fleeing, Lyra discovers a badly wounded Cassiopeia.  Dragging Cassiopeia, Lyra and 72 hide in the marsh while soldiers search for survivors. However, Cassiopeia dies and Lyra and 72 are forced to leave her as the guards continue to search for the missing replicas. As they hide in the reeds Lyra and 72 meet two people - another boy and girl and are confronted with an astonishing reality. How can this be and what is the connection of the girl who looks like Cassiopeia to Haven?


Replica is marketed as a "flip book" with two separate stories titled Gemma and Lyra that can be read either in alternating chapters or completely separately. I recommend reading these two intertwined stories in alternating chapters, something the book design makes awkward. Replica would have been written in alternating narratives as readers would want to read both stories anyways.

Replica is an interesting story that deals with human cloning and a young girl's attempt to uncover the mystery that involves her father and her past. What she uncovers is a mystery that involves three girls: Gemma, Cassiopeia and Lyra and the revelation that things are not as they seem.


Gemma and Jake determine that Haven has been experimenting with prions which are an infectious agent composed of protein. Some prions have the ability to replicate by causing properly folded proteins to change into misfolded proteins and therefore lose their functionality. When prions spread throughout the body, usually in the central nervous system, in this manner,  the result is prion disease.  Prion disease develops "when a person or animal ingests the infected tissue, such as a person eating meat from an infected animal" and develops "mad cow disease". Lyra tells Jake and Gemma that the replicas are filled prions and the doctors were always testing their bodies for prion penetration. Jake's internet searches indicate that Dr. Saperstein considers prions as a potential biological warfare agent. Prion disease which is untreatable and fatal could be used to disable terrorist cells. Jake tells Gemma "they've been using the replicas to make prions. They've been growing the disease inside them" This discovery makes Lyra feel anger because she did not ask to be made. Trying to understand and wanting to know the truth however, has given Lyra a purpose in her life. 

Both Gemma and Lyra uncover the shocking truth of their identities. Gemma believes she is a human with a mother and a father while Lyra believes she is a clone or to use the term in the novel, a replica. However, Gemma's efforts to uncover the truth behind Haven and her family's connection to the mysterious facility reveal a completely different reality. The truth is revealed when they meet up with Rick Harliss the man who attempted to grab Gemma near her home. He holds the missing pieces to the puzzle.

Harliss who at one time worked around the Ives's home, reveals to Gemma that her parents lost a baby girl named Emma before she was born. Around this time his wife Aimee had a baby girl named Brandy-Nicole and six months after Brandy's birth, Gemma showed up at the Ives home. Aimee noticed that the new baby looked identical  and that's when Harliss who was beginning to understand what was going on at Haven,  realized that Geoffrey Ives had his dead daughter cloned. Gemma is a replica of the Ives first child, Emma. Harliss also reveals that while he was in de-tox his ex-wife sold Brandy-Nicole but to whom he has no idea. With the information Harliss has given them Gemma realizes that Dr. Saperstein began taking kids whose parents would likely not miss them to use as experimental subjects at Haven when funding became scarce. "...if they couldn't afford to keep making them...Well, he took children he thought wouldn't be missed. He used them to test on. Just long enough to get the money he needed." Based on what Harliss tells her about his daughter, Gemma also realizes that Brandy-Nicole was one of those children and that Lyra is Harliss's missing daughter.  So in fact Gemma is a replica and Lyra is not. Gemma also realizes that her being a clone explains the source of all her health problems.

Learning their true identities is a shock for both Gemma and Lyra. Gemma is horrified. "She was a freak and a monster. There was no doubt about that now." However Pete makes her understand that how she was created does not matter to him as he feels she is "perfect". Knowing that she is replica does not change how he feels about her.  Lyra too is stunned to learn her true origin. She has a father and she's not sure she wants one. Neither Lyra nor 72 have any concept of what a family is nor what it means to love.  Lyra's concept of a mother is only what's she's experienced at Haven. "Her idea of mother looked much like the nurses and the Haven staff. Mother was someone to feed and clothe you and make sure you took your medicines." Her feelings about a father are equally confused. "She didn't want a Father. She had never even known what a father did, had never completely understood why fathers were necessary." Even the fact that she was naturally conceived leaves her confused. "...never had she truly thought about being a person, natural-born, exploded into being by chance." "She didn't want love, not from a stranger, not from a father. She was a replica." When Caelum turns away from Lyra because he is a clone and she is not, she like Pete did with Gemma, tells him that it doesn't matter because they each chose the other unconditionally.

In this way, Replica explores how modern biotechnology has influenced how we think about ourselves and what makes us human and how others might view those made with those technologies. It considers how modern technologies undertaken purely for the pursuit of knowledge without considering the ethical issues involved can be dehumanizing and immoral.  While Oliver considers on a personal level how clones and natural born humans might view one another she also touches on how doctors and researchers might view clones and human experimentation too. For example at Haven the scientists and nurses and doctors do not consider the replicas to be persons but research subjects with no rights. By creating entire batches that die, such as the yellow batch, they develop a cavalier attitude towards human life. Their attitudes are reflected in how Lyra views herself.

Lyra does not consider herself a human person because this is what she's been told. "But that's what they were: bodies. Human and yet not people. She hadn't so far been able to figure out why. She looked, she thought, like a normal person. So did the other female replicas. They'd been made from normal people, and even birthed from them." Likewise the staff at Haven also do not consider 72, Lyra or Cassiopeia to be persons either, often referring to them by the pronoun, "it".  Lyra believes there is something substantially different, "some invisible quality"  between herself and normal humans. Lyra hates "that she could look like a human, and yet she was not human, and they could tell."

When Gemma and Lyra meet neither can understand the other. Because Gemma looks like Cassiopeia, Lyra assumes (correctly as it turns out) someone "made" her and that she is a replica and that Gemma does not know she is a clone. Gemma and Jake's kindness towards Lyra confuse her especially when Gemma identifies Lyra and 72 as "people". "We're not people," Lyra said. "You said, 'These poor people have been through god knows what.' But we're replicas. God didn't make us. Dr. Saperstein did. He's our god."

Lyra's view of her body is not healthy either. She hasn't considered the beauty of the human body which she saw only as parts. "She'd never noticed how beautiful bodies could be. She'd thought of them only as parts, machine components that serviced a whole." 72 also has a distorted view of his body. He's only ever been called by a number and he admits that when he was a child he thought he might be an animal.

Oliver repeatedly references God as a theme in her novel. Lyra refers to Dr. Saperstein on more than one occasion as god even sometimes as a God with a sneer on his face. When Lyra had seen an alligator near the grounds at Haven, she thinks about how God made this beast but not her. "God made that creature, that monster with a taste for blood, and loved it. But he had not made her."  To Lyra, being made by a loving God matters. In her narrative, Gemma notes how beautiful one of her classmates Chloe is compared to herself and thinks, "Like she had been formed by a god with an eye for detail, whereas Gemma had been slapped together haphazardly by a drunk." The implication is that man playing god in creating human beings in a lab is messy and haphazard in contrast to when God creates, he does it with beauty and perfection.

There's also a hint in the novel that perhaps there was more than just cloning going on at Haven when Lyra remembers seeing the rats in their cages with their "strangely human fingers." 

Overall Replica is a well written novel that holds reader's interest with its numerous twists and action sequences. Replica is the first book in Lauren Oliver's newest series. The next book will be titled Simulation which the author has stated will be more complicated.

Book Details:

Replica by Lauren Oliver (Laura Schechter)
New York: HarperCollins Children's Books     2016
519 pp.

1 comment:

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