My Review: I have been extremely lucky in the past month or so to have had the opportunity to read YA novels with unique male protagonists. As an educator working with mostly reluctant readers, it is very difficult to find Young Adult books with interesting male leads that will keep teenage boys engaged. After having read The Tragic Age by Stephen Metcalfe and now Duplicity by the brilliant N.K. Traver, it almost feels like I hit the jackpot.
Without adding the science fiction element, the story is quite simple. Brandon Eriks is a 17 year old tattooed bad boy that gains pleasure out of hacking into bank accounts and credit cards for a nefarious organization. Of course he gets his cut, however he doesn't really need it since his parents have plenty of money. Brandon seems to fit the stereotype that comes with being tattooed and pierced-- he isn't doing well in school, he treats everyone with disdain, and is in constant dispute with his parents who start to think drugs might be the reason for his attitude and lack of motivation. Brandon doesn't care what anyone thinks; in fact, he has everyone thinking EXACTLY what he wants them to. Well, except for one anomaly-- Emma. Emma is the one person that sees beyond the attitude, beyond the tats and piercings. And for awhile, Brandon allows it. For once, he lets someone get close. But it can't last. Not with how his parents pick up and move every year. No, it's better for a clean break now rather than heartbreak later.
Then things get a little...crazy. One night while running a program to begin another "hack" job, his computer starts sending him messages. Personal, scary messages:
"HERE'S THE GAME, HACKER. I'M DONE WATCHING YOU RUIN PEOPLE'S LIVES. HEARD THE PHRASE 'YOUR OWN WORSE ENEMY?' YOU'RE ABOUT TO LIVE IT."
Thinking someone has messed with his computer, Brandon tries to brush it off until he starts to notice strange things happening to his reflection in mirrors-- his reflection doesn't follow his every move, instead it moves on its own, leaves messages through the glass, and starts to make physical changes to his appearance. Tattoos and piercings are removed (somewhat painfully), clothing replaced with a completely new "preppy" wardrobe, until finally, one day, it is HE that is replaced by his "duplicate". Now Brandon is on the other side of the mirror, watching this "replica" of himself take over his life. What's worse is the fact that Obran (the name Brandon gives his duplicate) appears to be mending the relationship with his parents, getting better grades in school, and getting a little too close to Emma. Why was he pulled into the mirror? Most importantly, how will he get out? That's something you'll have to figure out by reading this suspenseful cyberthriller!
If you like anti-heroes, then you will enjoy Brandon. He definitely isn't perfect and from the very first page you know he is partaking in illegal activities and makes no apologies about it. Bank accounts, credit cards-- he hacks into them all and is looking forward to moving on up to social security numbers very soon. So why should teenage boys pick this book up when the male lead is a slacker and on his way to becoming a criminal? Because despite his less than role model qualities, he is relatable. How many kids do you know have parents that work extra hours to keep their million dollar homes, brand new cars, their lake house but spend absolutely no time with their children? Parents that move every year, yanking their kids out of school, never staying long enough to lay down roots? That is Brandon's life. Despite his standoffish appearance and front he puts on, all he really wants is to be noticed by his parents. He wants to be able to stay in one place long enough to make long lasting friendships and relationships, however, keeping people at arm's length, especially Emma, is the only way to guard himself from being hurt when it is time to move.
Another aspect of Duplicity I liked is that Brandon and Emma's relationship is already established at the beginning of the story. I thought this was a unique twist to the book and allows us to get right into the action.
While there are not too many secondary characters in the book, the one that stood out to me was Seb. Once Brandon is pulled through the mirror into this alternate "landscape", he eventually meets Seb, an androgynous, mysterious hacker that wants to work with him to get out and back to the real world. Seb has a particular set of skills that Brandon definitely needs to attain their goal, but he is unsure if Seb can be trusted. I'll admit-- I was just as wary about Seb as Brandon was. However, Seb was hilarious and definitely serves as the comic relief in Duplicity. And as the story unfolds, you learn there is more to Seb then meets the eye, things that will have your eyes widening in shock and pulling on your heart strings.
The science fiction element of the story was fascinating and the technology aspect of the story will grab teenage readers and keep them invested since we live in a world where our kids are more technologically inclined then us adults. But even less tech savvy people can enjoy this fast paced thriller even with the introduction of supercomputers and nano chips, etc.
Duplicity is an engrossing piece of literary genius-- from the concept to the plot, to the flawed anti-hero who wants to be seen but is terrified to get attached-- it is hard to believe this book was written by a debut author. The ending will leave you wanting more--is it open ended, left for you to draw your own conclusions or did the author subtly set it up for a possible sequel? I guess we all will have to wait and see. I have no doubt we will be seeing more of N.K. Traver.