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The Replacement, by Brenna Yovanoff

Author: Brenna Yovanoff
Genre: YA Paranormal
Pages: 343 (ARC)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Read in November, 2010

Summary (from Goodreads): Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world. Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate's baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.

My thoughts:
Everybody knows something in Gentry is wrong, but like his neighbors and parents, Mackie is willing to ignore the strangeness until several things happen to force his attention: Tate, a classmate, comes to him for help because she is sure that her baby sister, who just died, wasn’t really her baby sister; he meets a mysterious stranger who tells Mackie something he’s suspected for quite a while, that he’s a Replacement and he's slowly but surely dying from iron exposure; and his sister Emma, also aware of how ill he’s become, makes a deal with one of the fey to help him and puts herself at risk. Mackie's only hope is to investigate his past, which leads him to become involved with the fey, who offer him medicine to keep him alive -- as long as he helps them keep sway over the town, by joining the band Rasputin and beguiling the humans with song, and by turning a blind eye to the whole sacrificing babies thing, like they do.

The dark side of the fey, or faeries, whatever you want to call them (Yovanoff resists naming them, so I am just going to call them "the fey" because it's a good blanket term) is well-mined territory in YA literature; finding a new take on them is a challenge, and I think Yovanoff succeeds in doing so. This debut novel creates its own mythology of changelings and the underground world where the fey live, while still using many common folkloric tropes. Discovering the dark, moody town of Gentry and their unnatural patrons is what kept me reading, even when I was semi-annoyed with suspect character motivations or the rushed ending. While I hesitate to call this a horror novel, because it’s not nearly scary or disturbing enough, it has horror undertones that make for a nice contrast with the current crop of more romantic paranormal YA books.

(Plot spoilers and overthinking here at my journal!)

Overall, I complain, but I enjoyed reading this eerie story. I loved the setting of Gentry and its secret underside, its intriguing history, and the complex and frighteningly inhuman nature of the fey. I thought Mackie was a sympathetic character, given all the secrets he has to unearth before he can feel safe, and I liked his relationship with his sister. I may not have bought his romantic feelings for Tate, but I did believe that he loved his sister Emma. The writing itself isn't super distinctive -- it's kind of "see-through" writing that doesn't have its own style and just tells the story in a direct way -- but it's strong enough, particularly in describing the creepier aspects, that I have high hopes for Yovanoff's next book, especially if she continues the semi-horror route.
Tags: category: young adult, genre: fantasy, xxx author last name: r-z
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