Review: Once We Were by Kat Zhang

I received this book for free from YA Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Once We Were by Kat ZhangOnce We Were by Kat Zhang
Series: The Hybrid Chronicles #2
Published by HarperCollins on September 17, 2013
Genres: Dystopian, Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
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three-stars

"I'm lucky just to be alive."

Eva was never supposed to have survived this long. As the recessive soul, she should have faded away years ago. Instead, she lingers in the body she shares with her sister soul, Addie. When the government discovered the truth, they tried to “cure” the girls, but Eva and Addie escaped before the doctors could strip Eva’s soul away.

Now fugitives, Eva and Addie find shelter with a group of hybrids who run an underground resistance. Surrounded by others like them, the girls learn how to temporarily disappear to give each soul some much-needed privacy. Eva is thrilled at the chance to be alone with Ryan, the boy she’s falling for, but troubled by the growing chasm between her and Addie. Despite clashes over their shared body, both girls are eager to join the rebellion.

Yet as they are drawn deeper into the escalating violence, they start to wonder: How far are they willing to go to fight for hybrid freedom? Faced with uncertainty and incredible danger, their answers may tear them apart forever.

Kat Zhang’s What’s Left of Me blew my mind with its creativity. The concept of the hybrids, of two souls inhabiting a single body, fascinates me with its complications. The fact that Zhang produced such a well-written, philosophically and emotionally complex novel before the age of 25 awes me and depresses me, because what the heck have I done? As such, I was highly anticipating Once We Were and, while I do not think it’s quite as enjoyable as the first book in the series, it’s a solid follow-up.

In Once We Were Zhang really dives into the day-to-day difficulties of sharing a body with someone. Addie and Eva are really close, both literally obviously and figuratively. Even so, they manage to keep secrets from one another, and there are definitely more tensions in their relationship now that they’re of an age to have romantic entanglements. As Eva and Ryan’s relationship heats up, borders need to be set and complications arise.

While it’s super awkward, I’m glad that Zhang really delved into all of this. If Addie and Eva like different guys, they’re going to both have to use the same body for physical affection, and it’s possible they might both be in there while it happens, kind of like the awkward love scenes in The Host. Conveniently, it is possible for one of the souls to kind of black out for a while, but there’s only so much control over how long they stay “asleep” and they could wake up to anything. Privacy is limited when you’re sharing a body.

Even though Addie and Eva are at odds through much of the book, their relationship is still a touching one. They care for and support one another so much. While to some degree sharing a body seems like a limitation, there’s the benefit of always having someone there to back you up and put you first. Sometimes romance is described as finding the person who makes you whole (not a description I care for personally), and it’s almost like the hybrids are already whole. Having someone with you would be really helpful. In a crisis, whichever of you is capable of facing it can take over. There are a lot of strengths to sharing too.

The plot doesn’t really pick up until halfway through the book, but it’s an interesting look at the ethics of the situation of the hybrids. Hunted and feared, how should the hybrids react? They’re currently in hiding, but that’s not safe. Do you fight back? Move to a country where hybrids are accepted? Keep moving around and lying low? Addie and Eva are faced with the choice between taking action and avoiding notice. It’s a tricky decision, especially when surrounded by peers pressuring you one way or another. I thought Zhang handled this in a really believable way for how young Eva and Addie are.

The opening of Once We Were was pretty confusing for me, because it has been about a year since I read the first book. Unlike with most books, there are two personalities to remember for each body, and putting together who was who and which ones I needed to care about took me a while. There’s a fairly large cast and a pretty slow pace, especially at the start. The pacing and how long it took me to piece together everything from the first book were the biggest detractors. Perhaps I would have done better had I read the series back to back.

Once We Were moves at a slow pace, but continues to raise really thought-provoking concepts. Like the first, this is a great book for discussion, and an excellent choice for readers who enjoy speculative fiction.

Favorite Quote:

“‘Everybody’s got sad stories.’ Devon’s voice was as ungiving as stone. ‘And everyone thinks they’re so very special and broken because of them.’

Tl;dr – Book in a GIFfy:

no matter where you go there you are

7 responses to “Review: Once We Were by Kat Zhang”

  1. It’s good to hear that this is a solid sequel, so it doesn’t suffer from that dreaded second-book-syndrome. The concept of two souls in one body is still so fascinating. It must be strange to never be able to be alone or to have those intimate moments with someone without anyone else. And I like the fact that she kept is so realistic for the ages of the MC. Sometimes it feels like an author wrote a YA with an adult character, because they seem to act way more mature 🙂
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Review 245. Danielle L. Jensen – Stolen Songbird.My Profile

  2. I never finished What’s Left of Me because while the idea was SO creative and unique like you said, the tone and how thought-provoking it was was too much for me to deal with at that time. But I’m glad that this sequel’s solid and develops the complications of sharing a body further 🙂 Fantastic review, Christina! <33
    Eileen @ Singing and Reading in the Rain recently posted…Wild Cards by Simone ElkelesMy Profile

  3. Amir says:

    I have read What’s Left of Me and I did enjoy it, I thought it has an original concept of two souls in one body. I had been meaning to read this but it just got lost in my wishlist pile! Sometimes slow paced book works for the story and it looks like this one is one of those books. I think I need to borrow and read the first book again to get into this one though. Great review 🙂
    Amir recently posted…Audiobook Review: Hallowed by Cynthia HandMy Profile

  4. Rachel says:

    Hi Christina

    I’ve nominated you for a Liebster Award!

    http://confessionsofabookgeek.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/liebster-award/#more-447

    R x
    Rachel recently posted…Liebster AwardMy Profile

  5. Okay, now I need to go back and read this one. I finished What’s Left of Me a few months ago, and never got around to starting Once We Were. But that quote from Devon has totally changed my mind – I forgot how much I loved his character!
    Kayla @ The Thousand Lives recently posted…ARC Review: Far From You by Tess SharpeMy Profile

  6. Lyn Kaye says:

    I am such a bad blogger! I have the first book in the series on my Kindle. I think it is time to take a look at it.
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Book Review: A Night Without Stars by Jillian EatonMy Profile

  7. Janice says:

    What’s Left of Me is still on my TBR list, glad to know the second one in the series doesn’t disappoint. Gives me more incentive to read it!
    Janice recently posted…Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor + GiveawayMy Profile

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