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Monday, October 20, 2014

Remake: Promising Premise, Not-So-Subtle Execution

As Nine approaches her 17th birthday, she—like most teens—is concerned about the decisions she will have to make as she nears adulthood.  She doesn't know what career she should choose.  She's not even certain about the look she's sporting—should she keep her red hair and freckles or change them to something more exotic or, maybe, less so?  And then there's the biggest choice of all: male or female?  Like the other members of her batch, Nine will soon be Remade with whatever alterations she chooses.  She can become tall or short, curvy or petite, blonde-haired or purple-eyed, feminine or masculine.  It's her choice.  She's free to make herself into anything she wants to be.  As long as the Prime Maker approves, of course.

Although Nine is a little apprehensive about the coming changes, she's looking forward to the operation that will allow her to finally become an individual.  But when the plane carrying the batchers to the Remake facility crashes into the sea, Nine finds herself washed up on a shore she's never seen before.  She's rescued by strange people (they claim to be a family, whatever that is) who live simple lives full of hard work and pain.  Hidden away from the eyes of the Prime Maker who rules Nine's world, the islanders toil away with imperfect bodies and inadequate supplies.  Nine can't understand their contentment with such a crude way of life.  Still, the more time she spends with them (especially 18-year-old Kai, who's as irritating as he is hot), the more she realizes that the islanders are more free than she's ever been or ever will be.  Which is precisely what makes them so happy.

When Nine's former life comes calling, she must make the toughest decision of her life—stay on the island as a rebel against the Prime Maker or return to her own world, where she can be Remade into whatever she wants to be?  It's time for her to finally decide who she is, what she wants, and how she's going to make it happen.

I was drawn to Remake, a debut novel by Ilima Todd, because although its premise sounded similar to that of Scott Westerfield's Uglies series, the whole idea of choosing one's gender seemed to bring something new to the YA dystopian table.  Knowing that Todd is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (in other words, a Mormon) made me even more curious to see how she would explore such an ambitious story question.  Open-mindedness, as it turns out, is not the novel's strong suit.  Its message—that marriage is sacred, family essential, and freedom to choose crucial—is absolutely one I believe in, I just think it comes across in the story as very heavy-handed.  Subtlety would have been a much more effective approach, especially in a book aimed at mainstream teens.  But then, subtlety is not something that's plentiful in Remake either.  The story has a very tell vs. show feel to it.  That, along with a confusing, underdeveloped dystopian world, flat characters, and a dull, saggy middle made this a rather disappointing read for me.  Remake isn't bad for a first novel; it just doesn't do enough to stand out.  For me, it ended up being just okay.
Although she lacked a lot in the personality department, I do think teens will empathize with Nine's anxiety about her future.  I also think they'll enjoy her romp on an exotic island, even if it sets up yet another annoying YA dystopian love triangle.  They will probably also appreciate (as did I) Todd's bravery in boldly tackling big issues that are as timely as they are divisive.  And yet, I think they, like me, will long for a more vivid story world, stronger characterization, and a fresher plot.  Don't get me wrong,

(Readalikes:  Remake's premise and plot reminded me of the Uglies series [Uglies; Pretties; Specials; Extras] by Scott Westerfeld and a little of the Under the Never Sky series [Under the Never Sky; Through the Ever Night; Into the Still Blue] by Veronica Rossi)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for sexual innuendo and references to sex, female anatomy, prostitution, etc.

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Remake from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain Publishing as part of the blog tour they're hosting to promote the book.  Thank you!

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