A friend of mine likes to complain about manga (no, this book isn’t manga, but stay with me.) He says that all of the plots are the same because they all seem to take place in some high school setting, plus some wacky concept. It’s ninjas in high school, or aliens in high school, or robots in high school, etc. At first, when he’d say this, I’d nod my head—it DOES seem like a lot of those mangas take place in the same setting. Why don’t they get original already?
Then I started reading young adult literature a little bit more. Eventually, I ended up writing a young adult book (only to later find that I’d written middle grade, but that’s another story). I’m still interested in the genre, as it didn’t ‘exist’ when I was a young adult. (Or, it did, but it wasn’t considered it’s own genre—there was only the adult section and the children’s section, no specific teen section.)
The more I read, the more I understood why so many books and graphic novels in this genre take place in schools. It’s because that is where the conflict is for their readership. It’s not unoriginal to set a book for high school students in a high school—any more than it would be unoriginal to have epic fantasy characters have jobs.
Why do I say this? Well, you may have noticed on the blog that I’ve been reading a book called Doppelganger recently. It’s a dark urban (i.e. horror) fantasy book about a shapshifter. Who goes to high school.
That’s the plot, in a nutshell—but, that doesn’t really describe how good this book is. It’s about a creature who has to kill humans and take their shapes. It’s built into him; it’s what his race does. Yet, this one is brand new at it, having just reached his maturity. At sixteen, he makes his first few kills, and unwittingly ends up in the life of a troubled teen with a terrible home life and a whole ton of conflict.
He has to take over being the star player of the local football team, and step into the shoes of what everyone thinks is the guy who had the perfect life. Only, that doesn’t take into account the abusive father (who is surprisingly well drawn and sympathetic), the girlfriend who secretly hates him (and whom the doppelganger finds himself coming to love), and the doppelganger’s own guilt at having killed a man he feels didn’t deserve it.
The book is awesome. It explores what it is to be human, and what it is to NOT be human. It’s told with a very strong first-person viewpoint, the narrative of the monster himself, as he deals with what he’s driven to do—and struggles to understand the lives of the humans around him even as he imitates one of them. It’s beautiful at times, poignant at times, and very well paced. The middle is stronger than the end, but the whole thing is extremely well written and compelling.
So, I recommend it. If you’ve read my reviews here before, you’ll know that I don’t tend to write reviews about the books I DON’T like. I figure that as a professional courtesy, I don’t need to give bad publicity to the books I didn’t enjoy, and instead prefer to focus on giving good publicity to those that I do. This book, from what I’ve heard, hasn’t gotten the buzz and attention it deserves. And, even if it has, it deserves more. Give it a read, if you get the chance.