Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Replacement (Brenna Yovanoff)

I am generally distrustful of novels that put excerpts at the back of the book instead of actual summaries. It makes me think: a) someone's not doing his job; and b) really? you're going with that?

Not the case with Brenna Yovanoff's The Replacement. It was the excerpt that lured me in, guaranteed that I would think about it until I actually bought a copy and read until the last page. In case you're curious, it reads:

'In the story, Emma's four years old. She gets out of bed and pads across the floor in her footie pajamas. When she reaches her hand between the bars, the thing in the crib moves closer. It tries to bite her and she takes her hand out again but doesn't back away. They spend all night looking at each other in the dark. In the morning, the thing is still crouched on the lamb-and-duckling mattress pad, staring at her. It isn't her brother.
It's me.'

As you've probably gleaned from that, the protagonist Mackie Doyle isn't one of us. He lives in the town of Gentry, a self-sustained little town that somehow still clings to Old World folklore and traditions. Every seven years, a child is taken from the town and a changeling is left in his place. These replacements often doesn't live too long; Mackie is lucky that he's found a family who has loved and nurtured him all these years. Unfortunately, they can't protect him enough: his uncommon appearance and his susceptibility to blood, steel, iron, and holy ground continually mark him as an outsider and living in our world is slowly killing him. When his classmate Tate's younger sister is taken, events come to a head and he begins to confront the world beneath Gentry and his true heritage.

Reading The Replacement felt like reading Kelly Link-lite in a Guillermo del Toro/Tim Burton-esque world. Worth noting is that the mysteries surrounding Mackie and Gentry are presented and dealt with little fanfare. There is no breathless wonder accompanying each revelation. As most of the locals do, the reader is almost expected to accept the circumstances quickly and move on. I say this because a reader expecting otherwise might find The Replacement cold and detached in that sense.

I liked Mackie as a protagonist and was quickly drawn into his world. A lot of Old World beliefs are present in the text: scissors hung over cribs to prevent a child being stolen, the faerie aversion to iron, milk left out for the Good Neighbors. I liked how these elements were casually slipped into the text. Mackie's friends and family (particularly his sister Emma -- their relationship was one of the best things in this book) are an amazing support system, a positive force for a teenager who in all appearances looked and acted (with good reason) pretty emo. But there was something about the characters that made it difficult for me to truly empathize with them. Perhaps I just found his actions to be a little uneven: sometimes Mackie decided things quickly, other times he dithered. I understand that not everyone has to be brash and impulsive all the time, but I found that this reflected the pace of the entire novel. There were times when I thought that there was a lapse in action and plot movement while towards the end, I kind of wished that the climax had taken its time to sweep me along with it. To be fair, I liked the resolution and found it effectively dealt with the issues presented. I guess I had expected it to be a little grander, given the outcome.

YA readers who like their fantasies a little on the dark and macabre side might want to pick up a copy of The Replacement. It's a stand-alone novel with an intriguing premise that courageously wraps its story in a ccontained way. It might not be for everyone but Ms Yovanoff has found a new fan in me (plus she mentions Leonard Cohen, which is always a good thing). Do with it as you will.


skysenshi said...

Haha! I get reeled in by excerpts. That was how I started reading that blasted Twilight series in the first place. Asar.

dementedchris said...

I'm usually tough against excerpts but sometimes I come across exceptions to the rule! ^_~

Anonymous said...

I loved this book! It was definitely an exertion! So much so i made a role playing game based upon The books =) so i made a role playing game based upon The books =)