Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Review: Beta by Rachel Cohn

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Rachel Cohn
Series: Annex #1
Publication date: October 16th 2012
by Disney Hyperion


Elysia is created in a laboratory, born as a sixteen-year-old girl, an empty vessel with no life experience to draw from. She is a Beta, an experimental model of a teenage clone. She was replicated from another teenage girl, who had to die in order for Elysia to exist. 

Elysia’s purpose is to serve the inhabitants of Demesne, an island paradise for the wealthiest people on earth. Everything about Demesne is bioengineered for perfection. Even the air induces a strange, euphoric high, which only the island’s workers–soulless clones like Elysia–are immune to.
At first, Elysia’s life is idyllic and pampered. But she soon sees that Demesne’s human residents, who should want for nothing, yearn. But for what, exactly? She also comes to realize that beneath the island’s flawless exterior, there is an under-current of discontent among Demesne’s worker clones. She knows she is soulless and cannot feel and should not care–so why are overpowering sensations cloud-ing Elysia’s mind? 

If anyone discovers that Elysia isn’t the unfeeling clone she must pretend to be, she will suffer a fate too terrible to imagine. When her one chance at happi-ness is ripped away with breathtaking cruelty, emotions she’s always had but never understood are unleashed. As rage, terror, and desire threaten to overwhelm her, Elysia must find the will to survive.

*A copy was provided by Disney Hyperion for review purposes*
While Beta has a fascinating premise of clones in a perfect world, there are a lot of elements in the plot that I found either unnecessary, or very off-putting. At first I thought I could overlook these qualms, but they kept piling up on top of one another until it toppled and became too much for my taste. The ending, however, almost brought this to a 3-stars as it actually caught me off guard for once. I would never have expected it–though this may not be the case for everyone–and it makes me somewhat curious about the sequel. Could other readers enjoy this one? Most definitely. If constant drug use – by adults and teens -, rapes, and slavery bothers you, however I suggest you avoid it.

Beta’s world building is depicted very slow and elaborately, filled with long descriptions of the pretty, perfect island they’re residing on. I enjoyed this at first as it creates a wonderful, scenic portrayal of Demesne, though after a while I found myself skipping these winded paragraphs as they began to simply bog down the plot. It was not long before I was yearning for more technical world building with all this imagery. Cloning being a very fascinating matter, we’re not told nearly enough to convince me of its logic in this case; why a deceased body is needed in the first place. Then comes the addition of souls into the matter which only amounted to making me uncomfortable as I’m not sure where I stand on this way of thinking. This is the downside of adding a spiritual angle as a means of explanation–not everyone will share the beliefs, or be open to it. If one lives and breathes, how can they not have souls? Or if, like me, you take a more scientific approach, it all comes to matter and energy, therefore, if a body has a source of energy–aka life–you’d have to mess with brain function to make someone have no desire or taste. It all comes down to realism, and how much you need to suspend disbelief. Maybe my head’s too thick, or maybe–and this is the story I’m going with–I’m simply too smart for this book! Ha!

All of this is not helped with the very slow pace of the book where more often than not, I was going over the logic of the story, scrutinizing it. In addition, as it takes a long while for the plot to make its appearance, we’re left in the midst of winded historical happenings and flat character dynamics. Elysia’s character–the Beta–starts off likeable with a fun narration since she doesn’t know a lot about society. This all goes downhill after she meets Tahir, the love interest. What follows is a dispassionate romance and bizarre unraveling events that leave our protagonist erratic and rash. One could argue that her behavior is purposefully written as such for she is a dysfunctional clone, yet, her awareness and thought process is inconsistent with this theory. In the end, she simply failed to charm me. So did any and all of the supporting roles. There was a lack of heart in each of the characters, because of which they fell flat.

Having a lot of controversial subjects could make this a very hit or miss novel. The plot basically consists of buying clones for slavery. Even though these are supposedly unfeeling, no souls clones, their treatments as objects–accessories to flaunt and play with that includes sexual activity (or assault depending how you look at it)–did not sit well with me. If a clone is found to have human traits such as taste, emotion, or otherwise, they are tortured and killed. Why? For research of course… Furthermore, throughout the novel there is constant talk of “raxia”, the apparent drug of choice for almost all residents of this perfect utopia. This drug–which is never particularly described–is used recreationally, regularly, and mentioned constantly. I still don’t understand the need for this to have been included in the book at all. It adds nothing, neither entertainment nor substance, to the story.

As a shell, this book has great potential with its unique, exciting premise. Inside this shell, however, is whole slew of problems that go from mild to simply asking for trouble. I’m not sure who I would recommend this book to, but it would definitely need to be someone with an open mind. It does have a flair of eccentricity and exciting dramatics that I could see readers enjoy, so I will leave this up to you.

2 Espressos
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Canadian blogger, wife, mother, coffee lover, and sarcastic at heart! She has had a love for all things bookish since before Amazon and eReaders existed *le gasp*. You can also find her organizing tours and other fun things at Xpresso Book Tours.

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33 Responses to “Review: Beta by Rachel Cohn”

  1. Nazish Reads

    I remember when you posted this review on goodreads a few months ago. I never understand why people went crazy for this book, because when I first saw this book cover, I was like, “whatever, it’s not as pretty as people claim it to be, I’ve seen covers that are 10 times more better looking and stories are amazing.” Although the synopsis did sound a little bit interesting.

    Anyways, great review, too bad you didn”t enjoy this book.

    Nazish @ Nazish Reads

  2. Kara_Malinczak

    You know? I don’t mind controversial subjects like rape and drug use if they are done well. There was a TON of drug use in Masque of the Red Death and I loved that book, so…but this book just sounds…not very good. I still want to read it, but your review has convinced me that maybe I should wait awhile. Or make this a library book. I love this review though. It’s so well-written. I think maybe you ARE too smart for this book. *I never thought I would say that* >.<

  3. Megan K.

    Hmm, now I’m rethinking about whether or should read this book. It was obey of the books I was really excited for, so I’m sad to hear that it didn’t quite work out for you. I can sort of understand why, though, now that I see the ‘real’ essence of the story (or part of it).

    Anyhow, thanks for the honest review, Giselle!

  4. Christina

    I liked her writing, and wasn’t particularly phased by all of the awful things happening to the clones. Actually, that was probably one of the things I liked. I’ve read too many dystopias where nothing bad really ever happens, and I’m all like LOL WHUT.

    This book was kind of a hot mess. I think the raxia was in the book because it made clones feel or whatever or something? I don’t know. Or because poor little rich kids always do drugs?

    It’s funny that the ending almost made it a three for you. It almost made it a two for me. LOL.

  5. Amy

    Haha! You smarty pants! Too smart for this book is a good way to think about it. I don’t like when there are things in books that seem unnecessary. Especially when it is drug use or something like that. It seems ridiculous to add it in unless it has a part in the overall story. I have seen a lot of not so great reviews for this book. I don’t think it will be a book I want to read. I’m going to say I’m too smart for it too. (Just go with it lol) Great review as always babe!!

  6. Michelle @ Book Briefs

    Bummer that you didn’t love this one. I just won it in a giveaway. The slow pace will probably bug me the most. I tend to get bored with books that aren’t doing much these days. (which I hate because I used to enjoy a leisurely book, but I am just too busy these days and it has been gravitating towards faster paced things.)

    Thanks for the great review, Giselle. I can always count on you to be honest 🙂

  7. Alaiel Kreuz

    I was never sure of this book. It sounded good but at the same time something kept bothering me… And after reading you review all I can say is thanks for being honest. Now I’m sure this is not my cup of tea.

    Alaiel @ Librarian Mouse

  8. Soma Rostam

    Well, Giselle, it looks like you didn’t enjoy this book.
    While makes me want to hold up reading it for a while.
    I love the cover and blurb, though. And i am okay with rape and drug abuse, but still, I hate superficial characters and lacking dialogues.
    LOVED your honest review.
    And great self confidence, Giselle 😛
    Your constant reader,

  9. Aman

    I was a little hesitant about reading it. Now that I know your opinion, I’m pretty sure I should stay away from it. Thanks!

  10. A Canadian Girl

    I do plan on checking this one out since I’ve seen quite a few mixed reviews for this one, but it’s too bad that you didn’t end up liking any of the characters, Giselle. I’m not a big fan of dystopians – especially slow ones – so I’m a little worried about the problems you mentioned but I’m going to try and keep an open mind.

  11. Danny

    Wops! This is it with me and this book! I talked to a friend the other day who told me about what happens at the end. So nope, this won’t be a book for me!

    So sorry! I hate when you start a book, being super excited and then end up not liking it…

  12. Alexa

    Interesting. I actually really liked the cover of this book, and it was one of the reasons I grabbed an ARC at BEA. The premise sounded promising, but now I’m curious to read it for myself and see if I end up liking it or not. Thanks for the heads up about the taboo subjects though!

  13. Mel - Thedailyprophecy.

    Oh, I was actually looking forward to this book. I already saw one negative review, but hey, that can happen. If you don’t like it, I’m buying the fact that it’s not that good as I expected. The world-building is important, but at one point, you want the story to begin. I won’t say that I’m very smart, but I always love a scientific approach – so I’m guess I will have the same problem. I think I will follow your review and I will skip it – at least for a while now 🙂 Lovely review!

  14. Nick

    Even with that pretty cover, this book never caught my attention for some reason. After reading your review, I’m convinced that this isn’t the book for me. It seems that the ideas are original, but it looks like there’s too much violence going on for me. Thanks for the thorough and very honest review, Giselle!

  15. Camille Picott

    I don’t know why, but a book with Disney as the puplisher makes me wary. I’m not sure this genre / age group is their speciality, you know? Sorry you didn’t enjoy the book!

  16. Sarah (saz101)

    Oh, Giselle, dissapointing 🙁

    I LOVE books with beautiful, sweeping description, but, I mean, if you’re skimming and skipping, you’re doing it wrong. I love it when I want to savor every word, not skip them.

    And the premise sounds DISTURBING. I’m all for disturbing, but this is dissapointing. Sorry it didn’t work out for you, but this is a seriously wonderful, balanced review ♥

  17. Mary @ BookSwarm

    Oh, poop. I love the premise of this book and will definitely still read it but I can see how it would read as hollow. Much like the “perfection” people are searching for in this novel.

  18. Kristilyn (Reading In Winter)

    Great review, Giselle. I was really excited about this one, having read a few Rachel Cohn books, and because this one seemed to step outside of the box of her writing. BUT I hate a slow story, so I might refrain from reading it. The cover is gorgeous, though — that’s one thing going for it!

    Thanks for sharing!

  19. Eileen

    OMG I totally agree! That drug was so weird! She was like using it to manipulate that poor fellow clone and then the romance was insta-lovey, and they were definitely all flat, like you said! And then Elysia was so. PERFECT and then by that time I just had to rip out my hair. I’m sorry you didn’t like it that much though I can totally get what you’re thinking of

  20. Molli @ Once Upon a Prologue

    I’m so disappointed – I’ve yet to read a good review for this book. I was excited for it, and will still read it, but it will be a library book. The issues you described sound like they’re valid ones – wild actions on the MC’s part, unnecessary things weighing down the plot, and a de-evolutionon the MC’s part one The Boy comes into thing. Yucko. Great, honest review though, chica!

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

  21. Chrystal

    Oh that makes me sad. I love this cover and can’t wait to read it. Perhaps this will be a library book to borrow instead of a purchase. Thanks for the honest review. 🙂

  22. J.J. Bonds

    Great review. It’s a shame Beta was a such a turn-off. The premise is certainly intriguing, but I suspect I’d have hard time stomaching some of the more controversial issues. Maybe I need to get out more, but I’m a little surprised this book has the name Disney printed on it.

  23. Jenn@OwlReadIt

    Aww, I was really excited for this one. Now I’m just not sure if it’s worth giving it a try. The synopsis makes it sound very interesting. Maybe I’ll wait for the library for this one…

    Thanks for the review!

  24. Jennifer Messerschmidt

    I liked this one. It was disturbing and sad to see the treatment of the clones and all the drugs and rape but I did think it made sense. To show how awful and indulgent this island was. I was also shocked with the ending! Dying to see where it goes next after that.