Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review of Beta by Rachel Cohn

Cohn, Rachel.  Beta.  Disney Hyperion, 2012.

The island of Demesne, created from an underground volcano, is said to be the most desirable and exclusive place on earth.  It has the purest air; the scenery has the perfect aesthetic; and the water around it has healing properties.  It is inhabited by the most rich, famous, and wealthy people in the world.

Clones on Demesne are created in order to serve residents on the island and to create an atmosphere of happiness and fine living.  The clones have been fitted with a brain chip so that they can mimic human feelings, a GPS wrist chip for tracking, and a facial brand, which designates their type of service.  They don’t need human food; their only nutrition is special strawberry shakes, which are loaded with chemical components.

Elysia is a sixteen-year-old clone—created in a lab—as a Beta, an experimental teenage model. Elysia’s “first”, her original human, had to die and her soul had to be extracted in order for Elysia to become a clone. Elysia is purchased by Mrs. Bratton, the wife of the governor of the island, to replace her rebellious teen daughter, who has gone off to college on the mainland.  She is also to serve as an athletic trainer to the Bratton’s son, Ivan, who will soon be joining the elite private army training on the mainland Base and to help care for the Bratton’s young daughter, Leisel. 

Elysia is having flashbacks about a handsome young man from her first’s past and thinks she may be defective.  However, she doesn’t want to tell anyone because she feels she has many privileges other clones do not.  What she eventually figures out is that clones are actually an oppressed society ruled and owned by the wealthy; clones can be forced to do anything and are easily disposed. 

There is growing tension on Demesne.  The privileged teenagers are secretly using ataraxia, an illegal drug that gives its users a profound feeling of dreamy happiness and contentment.  There are growing protests against using clones as servants and rumors of a group of clone “Defects” planning an insurrection so that they can gain their freedom.

Elysia’s choice about what she should do with her life is ultimately made easier by the events unfolding on the island and how she feels about her adoptive “family” and her relationship with a boy.  Although she has done some planning, some last minute decisions could end up causing her death.  I don’t want to say more than that for fear of revealing too much!

What a wonderful new dystopian series this is!  The lush world- and character-building that Rachel Cohn has created gives the reader wonderful descriptions of the luxurious Demesne, its surroundings, and its inhabitants.  I so want to visit this island; unfortunately, I could not afford it! 

Beta’s main character, Elysia, is a very strong female protagonist.  Since she doesn’t understand context, she takes everything very literally, which only adds to her likability.  Her character grows from someone who is innocent and unsure of herself into a mature, self-assured young woman.

The humans on the island take the clones for granted and think they are quite superior to them.  There is also another group, aquines, which have been genetically engineered to produce a new kind of human race.  They are peaceful, religious zealots and mate for life.  Demesne citizens also look down upon these aquines as inferiors.  It’s no wonder that there is such strife on the island!  The author is able to capture the disdain that the privileged feel toward both groups.  Readers will feel it oozing from the story.

Beta is a wonderful book, filled with a caste hierarchy, greed, wealth, control, and class warfare.  There are some real surprises thrown in—things that were extremely unexpected.  The novel slows down a little near the middle, but gradually picks up speed and ends in a cliffhanger!  Readers will not be able to put the book down!

There are three additional books planned for this series.  I recommend it for high school and public libraries.

**Reviewer’s note:  The copy reviewed was an ARC received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.