Sunday, January 1, 2012

Book Review: Replication

Title: Replication- The Jason Experiment
Author: Jill Williamson
ISBN: 0310727588
Reading Level: Young Adult
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Theme: Cloning, Christian Lit
Binding: (Hardcover) (ebook, ARC)
Length: 304 pgs
Publisher: Zodervan (Zoderkidz)
Published: 27 December 2011
My Rating:

Synopsis (Amazon): Martyr---otherwise known as Jason 3:3---is one of hundreds of clones kept in a remote facility called Jason Farms. Told that he has been created to save humanity, Martyr has just one wish before he is scheduled to 'expire' in less than a month. To see the sky. Abby Goyer may have just moved to Alaska, but she has a feeling something strange is going on at the farm where her father works. But even this smart, confident girl could never have imagined what lies beneath a simple barn. Or what would happen when a mysterious boy shows up at her door, asking about the stars. As the reality of the Jason Experiment comes to light, Martyr is caught between two futures---the one for which he was produced and the one Abby believes God created him to have. Time is running out, and Martyr must decide if a life with Abby is worth leaving everything he's ever known.

**The Following Review May Contain SPOILERS**

My Review: I was able to snag an early copy of Replication from NetGalley in exchange for a review. It was an interesting read to say the least. As the synopsis states above, Martyr, along with 55 other boys, are all "Jasons" or clones, living in the secret, underground labs of Jason Farms. Most of the boys have nicknames, given to them by the mean-spirited guards based upon their actions or specific characteristics. For example, Baby obtains his name because he sucks his thumb and is considerably smaller then the other boys. Hummer does nothing but rock back and forth and hum. Martyr is known for protecting those in the facility who are weaker and picked on (especially Baby), often resulting in him receiving "marks" or punishment.

While the nicknames might be cool, what I found disturbing is that the doctors of Jason Farms viewed them as only numbers. Instead of having birth names, each boy was given a number depending on what "batch" and "condition" he was born in. Martyr, being healthy with no birth defects, is a level 3. Baby, with his abnormally large head, inability to speak, and small stature, is a level 1 or 2. The boys with severe deformities are called "brokens". So while the guards or the other "Jasons" may call Martyr by his nickname, the doctors address him as J:3:3. Talk about being just a number, right?

The author, Jill Williamson, presents us with many disturbing, heart-wrenching scenes, scenes that help us put in perspective how far scientists will go in the name of science or for their own hidden agendas. The "Jasons" are educated but are not allowed to see or wear anything of color. No wonder Martyr gladly accepts 2 "marks" for getting out of his seat to touch Dr. Goyer's red tie. Or the fact that he wants to see the blue sky before he "expires" in less than 30 days. Since we are on the topic of expiring, Dr. Kane and the rest his medical team have repeatedly lied to the "Jasons", weaving a tale about how the air above ground is toxic to breath and they must give up their own lives to save humanity.

So now you're probably wondering what's the real reason for cloning so many "Jasons" and keeping them in the dark? Of course that is for you to discover, although it's not hard to figure out. Determined to see the sky before he dies on top of finding out some disturbing information that makes him question his purpose even further, Martyr is able to escape the lab by stealing Dr. Goyer's key card and hitching a ride in the back of his truck without him knowing it. Dr. Goyer is a new member of the medical team at Jason Farms. He's not only new, but appears to be a little sympathetic towards Martyr.

When Dr. Goyer arrives home, Martyr sneaks into the house and hides in a room upstairs. Little does he know that the room he hides in is Abby's (Dr. Goyer's daughter). Abby is a smart, goal oriented young woman with strong religious beliefs and values. Her faith in God has helped her to come to terms with the loss of her mother, who died from cancer. Her father on the other hand is still in mourning. I got the sense that he blames himself for not being able to find a cure quick enough to save his wife. Unlike Abby, he puts his faith in what he can see in front of his microscope and lab results. Of course once Abby finds Martyr in her room and puts 2 and 2 together, Replication becomes the basis for the religion vs. science debate. Hold that thought because I'm going to come back to it in a minute.

The chapters that follow Martyr seeing the real world for the first time is both comical and sad. It's nothing we haven't seen before in movies (Powder, Encino Man, etc.) but nonetheless still effective. I won't get into any of those details since I think it's important for the reader to experience it on their own. However, it's worth mentioning that the Williamson did a great job illustrating how much we take for granted just by the way Martyr is in awe of the tiniest things.

Most of the reviews I've seen posted so far for Replication have been extremely positive. Even though I commend the author for writing about a topic that is controversial, edgy, and adds something unique to the Young Adult literature world, I did have some issues with this book. My first major problem is the heavy-handed religious proselytizing that takes place from the time Martyr meets Abby to the end of the story. Before I get rocks thrown at me and hate mail, let me say that I found out an important factor AFTER I finished the book. Apparently, Jill Williamson is a Christian author and that Replication was published by Zondervan, a Christian publishing company. Let me make this clear. This is NOT a bad thing! I have nothing against Christian writers, publishing companies, etc. It was my fault for not doing some research before or during my reading experience. That being said, if I had known ahead of time, I could have gone into the book better prepared. Instead, I was highly annoyed when whole chapters turned into Abby preaching to Martyr, sending him to a pastor, the pastor putting a bible in his hand, Martyr reading the bible, Martyr becoming a devote Christian within what-- 2-4 days of his break out of the lab??

Even knowing now about the origins of the book, I still feel the religious aspects of it was too excessive and a bit unrealistic. I know that when it comes to the idea of cloning, religion can play a big part in the ethical debate between religion vs. science. I get that. I was even fine when I realized that Abby was going to take the religious stance while her father took the other side. But it was pretty obvious the book had more than one agenda and that was a major turn off.

My other issues are minor. The author did a lot of "telling" and not enough "showing". Williamson used 3rd person narration which is a great device to use because you can get into more than 1 character's head. However, I don't think she used it to her full advantage. I was also bothered by Mr. Markley's lack of emotion when it is confirmed what really happened to his wife. I can't say any more about that for spoiler purposes, but it also could be an issue with the writing. Also, what happened to JD??? If these things could have been tweaked, I think the book would have an even greater affect on readers' emotions.

Overall, Williamson impressed me with the subject matter, how she took her time developing her characters, and finding the perfect formula for adding comic relief without taking away from the seriousness of the story. If anyone is interested in an adult version of the cloning debate, I highly recommend a book called, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. The book recently became a movie, also called Never Let Me Go. Warning: if you decide to watch the movie, have a box of tissues handy.


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