I’ve been interested in What’s Left of Me, the debut by Kat Zhang, since I first heard of it. The premise was intriguing – two people trapped in the same body, fighting for dominance? But unlike in other books exploring a similar theme, like The Host, the characters in this book are actually born that way? I sensed potential for greatness. And when I realized Kat was another Nashville author whom I would have the opportunity to meet, that sealed the deal. I needed to read this book ASAP.
The Plot (from Goodreads)
Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .
For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.
This book took some getting used to, because of the unnatural (yet accurate for the story) use of pronouns and verb conjugations. Because there are two people sharing one body, you get paragraphs like this:
“Kind of,” Addie said. She managed to keep our voice bland despite Hally’s dogged high spirits, but our fingers tugged at the bottom of our blouse. It had fit at the beginning of the year, when we’d bought all new uniforms for high school, but we’d grown taller since then. Our parents hadn’t noticed, not with — well, not with everything that was happening with Lyle — and we hadn’t said anything.
“Want to come over?” Hally said.
Addie’s smile was strained. As far as we knew, Hally had never asked anyone over.
– page 8, What’s Left of Me
Keeping in mind that all those “our”s and “we”s are talking about two individuals sharing the same body. Sometimes Addie acts independently of Eva, sometimes they act together. Sometimes people are addressing both of them, sometimes just one. You’d think it would be really confusing, but it’s not once you get used to it. I do, however, feel sorry for Kat’s editor. Grammarcheck would have had a hard time with this one.
I really liked that this story was told from the perspective of Eva, the recessive soul. It was fascinating watching Eva and Addie’s sibling dynamic, when one of them had only a voice and no body. They could communicate with each other, but Eva couldn’t speak with their voice to anyone else. So lots of times, Eva sat helplessly inside their body, urging Addie toward a course of action, only to have to suffer the consequences when Addie made a different choice.
Although it wasn’t a major plot point of the book, I was completely fascinated by the family dynamics in the book. Eva and Addie’s parents both, at some point during their lives, tell them that they love both of them. But at the same time, they urge Eva to fade away, and for Addie to assert her dominance. It’s such a weird and challenging concept — how should a parent’s love be affected by having two children inhabiting the same body? And should they mourn the “death” of one for the good of the other, or should they simply accept it as the way life works? Eva, obviously, feels hurt by the withdrawal of her parents’ affection — from her, not Addie — even as she tries to tell herself it’s normal for them to stop talking to her. Again, this isn’t actually a huge part of the story, but it was such an interesting question to me.
And the question necessarily expands to intertwine with the main narrative. Should one soul be forced to fade away, or do both have a right to share the body? And if both souls have equal rights to the body, who gets to choose what they do? If one soul is romantically attracted to someone and the other is not, which gets to follow their heart?
As Eva and Addie struggle with these philosophical questions, they have to deal with the physical problem of being taken and incarcerated if their hybrid nature is discovered. And so in addition to the internal struggle, there is a lot of external action, adventure, and peril. Even a touch of romance, although that too becomes a delicate and challenging situation. It’s a great mix, and I was completely sucked in.
Eva’s narration is sparse but effective, and the storytelling flowed nicely. There’s still some huge questions at the end of the book, but it’s not a cliffhanger. Truthfully, I don’t know if it’s possible to fully and neatly answer all of the questions raised by this book, so in that way, it would actually work as a standalone (even though it’s the first of a trilogy). Oh, and although it’s being touted as a dystopian, it’s really not. Nor is it really sci-fi. More of an alternate reality. It’s one of those books that’s kind of hard to define, which I think actually broadens its appeal.
I thought this book was really good, but it didn’t completely knock me off my feet. I feel like it could, and I’m almost expecting that from the sequel. But while this one was highly enjoyable, it didn’t quite crack that amorphous bubble that houses my all-time favorites. That said, I still highly recommend it.
Content guide: Contains some violence