The Replacement, by Brenna Yovanoff
Release Date: September 2010
Received: Library book
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Mackie Doyle is a changeling, or, as they're referred to in this book, a replacement. In a town gifted by fairy folk, occasionally a human child is stolen as a tithe and a sickly fay child is left in its place. Almost all of these creatures die in their infancy, but Mackie Doyle survived. Now Mackie is a teenager and the death he avoided as a baby is catching up with him. Living in a world riddled with iron, Mackie's body is giving out on him. Desperate to save him, his sister makes a deal with a fairy that succeeds in fending off death, but comes with some pretty serious strings. As Mackie treads deeper in the morally ambiguous world of the fairies, he finds himself entangled in a moral conflict of his own: Assist his classmate in locating and saving her baby sister being held as a sacrifice by the fay, or comply with the demands and sacrificial traditions of the fairy world in order to save his sister and himself.
I'm having a difficult time reviewing this book. I was originally drawn to it because of the cover. I know, I know, but what can I say? I'm 100% a judge a book by its cover kind of girl. The perambulator is gorgeous and evokes all kind of Gothic vibes, and the sinister crib mobile and ominous clouds promise a story with a high creep-factor. In that sense, the book completely lived up to its packaging.
The fairies were just as intricately described and spooky as the cover. Their appearances were a perfect blend of strange, scary, and still on some level understandable. Most notably, I could completely believe that they were otherworldly creatures in their cores and not just their appearances. Oftentimes authors write about non-human characters in a very human way. This makes them easier to relate to, but it lacks a certain authenticity. Yovanoff didn't do this at all, and her book is stronger as a result. I could sympathize with and even like the fairies, but their actions were decidedly not human and this made their immoral actions easier to accept without poisoning the characters for me. They aren't human, and it is wrong and dangerous for Mackie, and we the reader, to expect them to behave as moral humans would behave.
The underlying messages in the book were poignant and well made. Mackie struggles with family issues, his identity and where he belongs, friendship, trust, risk, prejudice, fear and, most notably, acceptance. While all potentially weighty issues, the book never felt bogged down or preachy (though it did feel a little melancholy). Instead, Yovanoff made her points subtly, weaving them seamlessly and unobtrusively into the story. I was left pondering the moral ambiguity of the story, and while I am firmly on one side of the dilemma, the fact that the arguments of the "bad guys" (humans and fairies) made me think is an accomplishment. The relationships she builds between the characters are touching and complex and lingered with me for a while after I finished the book. The story may be about the supernatural, but the cruxes of the messages are completely real.
With all of these positives, why am I so conflicted with my review? I'm lauding the book, and I stand by that, but for some reason I still can't pin down, I had trouble becoming really immersed in the story. The pacing felt slow and I never really felt caught up in that burning desire to see what happens next. The problems of the story were well plotted, but the climax felt a little flat for me. While I liked and appreciated almost all of the characters, I never *loved* any of them or felt any strong attachments. The strongest emotion I felt for any of the characters was for Tate, the girl whose sister was stolen, and that emotion was far from positive. I'm sure I'd be upset, angry, and erratic if I were in her shoes, but as a reader not in Tate's shoes, she irritated me. Her romance with Mackie felt strange, false, and transitory, which fits the story but not the jacket description.
The book was good with some really stunning accomplishments, so I don't think my personal inability to connect fully with the story should impact my rating or recommendation. With all the light and romance-focused YA paranormal books dominating the genre now (which I love), The Replacement really stands out. This book is dark, thoughtful, and while the ending is triumphant, it isn't a happily ever after. Another notable deviation from the genre: The story actually ends! It was so nice to turn the last page and know I wouldn't have to desperately count down the days for the sequel to arrive and finish the story. I look forward to seeing what Yovanoff writes next.
Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key