When humans bioengineer their own tropical paradise, what could possibly go wrong? In Beta, author Rachel Cohn (Gingerbread; Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist), examines themes of free will, entitlement and justice in a highly readable futuristic fantasy.
Elysia, a newly emerged clone, inhabits the body of a beautiful 16-year-old girl. She is a Beta, a test model, and not yet perfected. She lives on the island of Demesne, constructed to be as perfect as possible--with its super-oxygenated air and soothing violet sea water to pamper its citizens, the world's richest and most privileged people. Demesne's population is served by clones designed to be immune to the euphoria of this island paradise. At first, Elysia is a most desirable clone, "exquisite," respectful and subservient. She follows every order put forth by her imperious human family. But Elysia soon comes to realize that she has Defects, which may prevent her from serving as her humans intended. She can taste her food and feel emotions, which are against the rules for clones. Even worse, Elysia begins to develop her own sense of values. But she must be careful: any clones who exhibit Defective behavior are immediately reprogrammed or "expired."
Teens may well identify with the characterization of clones as second-class citizens without control of their own destinies. A satisfying start to a new series, Beta ties up some necessary story threads, but a powerful cliffhanger will leave readers looking forward to the next installment.
--Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, the monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI. First appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, reprinted with permission.
Discover: A tropical paradise for the world's richest people, staffed by clones who increasingly resent their servitude.