Monday, October 18, 2010

Review of The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Yovanoff, Brenna. The Replacement. Razorbill, 2010.

My 16-year-old daughter is frankly incredulous that a fabulous fey creature like herself could have come from such conventional, plodding stock as her father and me. Although she hasn't actually claimed to be a changeling, I think that, deep down, she believes it.

I, on the other hand, was a clumsy and awkward teenager whose wish at all times was simply to be invisible (or to be outrageously beautiful and self-confident, natch, but that wasn't happening). Too tall, too skinny, too hairy, too blotchy - elbows too pointy, knees too knobbly, nose too pointy, chin too small, veins too visible - my god, I was a MONSTER!! Or so I was convinced.

16-year-old Mackie is also convinced of his essential wrongness. "I feel weird and freakish and pointless..." he says, and in fact he has good reason - other than being a teenager - to feel that way, being the real, honest-to-goodness changeling that he is. As a baby, he was placed in Malcolm Doyle's crib, the real Malcolm having been stolen by... those others. And so Mackie grows up like a cuckoo in the place of the human Malcolm, pale and black-eyed, unable to stand the sight or smell of blood, actively allergic to iron, and unable to enter consecrated places.

What makes this such an unusual and intriguing story is the fact that the Doyle family is not only fully aware of what Mackie is, but is determined to protect him and keep him safe. His minister father, his mother (with a strange past of her own), and most of all his sister love him despite the fact that he is not human and has replaced their own flesh-and-blood.

The whole town of Gentry knows what Mackie must be, but there is some pretty serious denial going on, particularly when you consider that there have been plenty of children going missing or dying over the years. Everyone knows what that they are living a creepy, unmentionable contract - in return for some of their children going missing (to be replaced by creepy creatures that usually die quite soon in this hostile iron-rich, human environment), their town will thrive - or at least, it won't die as so many neighboring towns have.

The story starts strong and just gets more intense, as Mackie meets his people for the first time and begins to get to know life under the mound. Although he is intrigued, he is appalled by the blood sacrifice demanded by one powerful ruler and by the acceptance of this by all the other creepy but non-bloodthirsty denizens of this underground realm. For the first time in his life, Mackie feels compelled to take a stand - and it's one that forces him to redefine "monstrous."

This is an eerie, deliciously shudder-inducing tale, filled with complexities and nuances that will keep readers pondering life in Gentry long after they finish the book. As fascinating as Gentry's hidden Folk are, what is most compelling is the strange way the humans of Gentry incorporate this knowledge of the Unnatural into their normal, everyday existence - going shopping, playing football, hanging out the laundry, but hanging iron horseshoes over their doors and scissors over cribs as well. And never, ever talking about it.

That Mackie is actually a very lucky Monster will be obvious to most readers early on, but doesn't occur to Mackie himself until later; he is blessed with a truly amazing family and some intensely loyal friends. They stick by him even when he feels most alienated, and they help him to understand what being a person (even if not a human) really means.

Perhaps one day soon my own little changeling will see the value of her own lumpen but loving family!

Highly recommended for ages 13 and up.

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