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Staff Picks: “Beta” by Rachel Cohn

Rachel Cohn is best known for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, two popular contemporary and realistic young adult novels. When I saw she was coming out with a science fiction dystopian novel, I was intrigued.

Beta is set on the otherworldly island of Demesne, where the air is so full of oxygen, the environment so lush, it seems like paradise. The island is staffed by clones made from the bodies of those who have died, and these clones serve the elite humans who make Demesne their home. Elysia is one of the first teen clones, making her a Beta. Despite the risk, she is purchased by the wife of the governor of the island as a sort of replacement for her daughter who has gone to study on the mainland. Elysia wants nothing more to please her new owners so she can keep her coveted role as one of the family and avoid the manual labor and servitude that is the lot of others of her kind. But Elysia slowly realizes that Demesne is not a paradise for everyone on the island. She experiences emotions and sensations that clones are not supposed to feel, not to mention strange flashbacks of a beautiful boy that can only be memories of her First.

The narration is believable and immediate. I was completely swept away in Elysia’s point-of-view. Her reaction to this world seems fitting of someone who has only just recently become a part of it. The world-building is subtle yet complete. It seems very believable that this technology could be developed in the future, and that the rich and famous would use their power to construct an ideal offshore community after the mainland has been ravaged by war and natural disasters. I felt that from the very beginning, Cohn was planting the seeds of rebellion. The plot twists at the end hit you in quick succession—Bam! Bam! Bam! and left me dying for the sequel. Ultimately, the character of Elysia and her strong voice are what will bring me back for the rest of the trilogy.

This book is definitely mature YA. While some books I’ve reviewed recently, like Tiger Lily and The Shadow Society, I feel are appropriate for those as young as 12, Beta is not one of those books. While not gratuitous or inappropriate, this is a novel best suited to more mature teen readers.

If you enjoy Beta, you might also like What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang, Glitch by Heather Anastusiu, and Origin by Jessica Khoury.

– Molly, YA 


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