Pub 10-2012, Hyperion, $17.99
In Rachel Cohn’s new novel, Beta, “Perfection isn’t important,” but Beta, itself, achieves perfection. Known for her best-selling novel Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, Rachel Cohn brings new and creative ideas to the table. She touches upon innocence and perfection, and how knowledge could disrupt the perfect order a society strives to maintain. These themes are directly connected to rebellion. Together they create a unique plot set in a “perfect” society.
The island of Demesne is surrounded by the magical water of Io and filled with air that causes the wealthy residents to exist in a constant, euphoric high. Elysia, the first successful teen Beta and protagonist, was born in a laboratory as a sixteen-year-old girl with no soul and having no feelings. Clones like Elysia are immune to the air in Demesne because they have no soul. Waking in a utopian society, like Demesne, leads Elysia to believe everything and everyone is perfect. As she spends more time with her “family”, though, she realizes Demesne is far from perfect.
In my opinion, Beta is a must-read for all sci-fi fans. The island of Demesne, especially, made the novel interesting. The beautiful, breathtaking waters of Io exude perfection and serenity, which contrasts with the rebellion taking place on the island. Cohn focuses on the visual appearance of objects and expands on them to show the readers that the surface of things doesn’t always tell the truth. And she uses the same technique with the characters, for example Xanthe, the housekeeper clone, who works for Elysia’s “family”. In the beginning of the novel, she is portrayed as shy and obedient, but as the novel progresses, the reader finds that Xanthe is just the opposite. Xanthe is part of the rebellion against cloning and the ill treatment of clones, which contradicts her description as obedient and shy.
As well as Cohn uses this technique, though, there are a few ideas or events that could have been explained further. The use of “ataraxia”, a drug that is popular with the teens that live in Demesne, seems unclear and detached from the story. Even though it causes a high that makes its users feel perfect and serene, it has no relevance or purpose in the novel. It seems that Rachel Cohn added this drug to emphasize the rebellion within the island, but if so it’s diminished when, in one scene, a mother doesn’t worry about her son taking the drug. The addition of the drug into the plot provides some character insight and brings information to the reader, but overall adds up to noise. If ‘raxia (Ataraxia) had not been included in the novel, it would have been better.
Beta is unlike any book I’ve ever read. It combines action, romance, and surprise to create a plot that demands the reader’s attention. It shows us how things are not always as they appear. This lesson is similar to the one everyone hears growing up: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Cohn surprises the reader in many ways and the unexpected plot changes add to the suspense. The characters, the events, the storyline all blend together to create an original tale of romance and rebellion centered in a “perfect” society. This novel, itself, is a Beta because it experiments with the reader’s emotions. And for that reason, it’s a must-read for all.
- Rima I., 16