This was life in Gentry — going to school every day, blending into a world where everyone was happier to ignore the things that didn’t fit, always willing to look away as long as you did your part.
Otherwise, how could they go on living near their neat suburban lives?
When I was little, all I really wanted to be was my sister. I wanted to wear her clothes and her earrings and listen to her music and do what she did.
Most of all, I wanted the things in her world that were forbidden to me, specifically the shelves of books in her collection that were literally out of my reach, on a high shelf in her room. Those were her “grown-up” books, the ones I wasn’t old enough for yet.
Of course, eventually, I managed to sneak one off the shelf and out of her room. I was 11 years old. It was the biggest book I had ever seen and my first “grown-up” book. I settled in one summer afternoon with my sister and mother out of the house and started reading It by Stephen King.
Naturally, I had nightmares for weeks after, got in trouble for stealing my sister’s book, and never looked at sewer grates or clowns in the same way. That was the first time I understood what horror fiction was, how different it was from every book I’d read before: how exciting and frightening and weird and challenging it was. Twenty years later, that summer afternoon and that creeping, crawling fear in the pit of my stomach and back of my neck came back to me in a rush when I sat down with Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement and found myself pulled, entirely, into her fictional world of Gentry, where very bad and very scary things happen while the citizens pretend not to see.
What I Love About This Book
Yikes. I loved that this book scared me. I loved that this book freaked me out. I loved that this book stuck intense, vivid images in my head that wouldn’t go away. I loved that this book wasn’t messing around. I loved that this book had a messed up, complicated romance but wasn’t a paranormal romance. I loved that this book was about the power of love, fierce, angry, insistent love, that can keep you alive against all odds. I loved that this book got under my skin.
The Replacement of the title is Mackie Doyle. Mackie was left in a crib in place of a human child but instead of dying like most replacements, Mackie lived. Now 16, the human world is slowly poisoning Mackie, because he was never meant to live this long amongst humans.
Let’s look a little closer at that description, shall we? One thing I love about Yovanoff’s universe is the fact that everyone in Gentry knows that something is wrong in their world: there’s no dancing around the fact that horrible things happen there. It adds to the sense of impending doom, of something ominous and terrible happening. Yovanoff knows it’s worse, it’s so much worse, to know that something is wrong but to not make that something explicit. So, Mackie is a replacement, his family knows it, his friends suspect it, and everyone in Gentry knows that replacements exist, that sometimes human children go missing and other things, other creatures, not meant to live long in the world show up in their place. Why the citizens of Gentry are OK with knowing this happens and why they don’t really do anything about it, well . . . finding that out is part of tension of the story.
Now onto the “human world” part. Yes, another thing that makes this book so special is the seething, teeming other world that exists alongside Gentry, a place called Mayhem. Mackie will, of course, eventually find his way to Mayhem and confront the many creatures who live there, those that are both kin and enemies of his. Yovanoff’s writing really takes off here, Mayhem is a fantastic, upsetting place, where things are both threatening and familiar. My favorite part of Mayhem is definitely the ruler: the Morrigan, a little girl you won’t soon forget. The Morrigan is cruel and kind, helpless and powerful, playful and lethal. She springs to life off the pages, fully formed and feral. Like Mackie, you find it hard to understand or resist her. Besides Mackie, the Morrigan is probably my favorite character in the book.
And, oh, Mackie. I LOVE YOU, MACKIE DOYLE. Mackie’s a great character, that strange boy from school who was oddly out of pace with everyone else, something was off about him, but you never knew what. The world literally hurts Mackie, but he can’t help but want to be a part of it, to feel and taste and experience rock shows and hanging out with his friends and flirting with a popular girl at a party. But the lingering wrongness of Gentry, of what Mackie is and how he’s lasted so long, makes that almost impossible. In other words, all this is really a clever, sharply drawn metaphor for adolescence itself: the pain of growing up, of fitting into a world that sometimes hurts, of feeling you’re a freak in a literally hostile world. But it’s also a story of rejecting the status quo of “looking away” and pretending that everything in Gentry (in the world) is just fine. Mackie’s existence proves that’s a lie and now, finally, he’s got to confront what that means and just how far he’s willing to go to look the truth of his town, of his life, in the eye. Terrible things happen in Gentry, you see, but now it’s time for Mackie to decide what price he’s willing to pay to make them stop.
Yovanoff’s writing is intense and unsparing: there’s violence and gruesome descriptions. All of this makes Gentry and Mayhem seem very real and very present, that’s what creates good horror fiction, after all, the unsettling, persistent feeling that all this could maybe happen to you. And, wow, is this good horror fiction! Creepy, intense, gross, exciting: characters with claws, characters with slit throats, characters with a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, characters who demand awful sacrifices…this is great, graven, shocking stuff!
I can’t stop talking about The Replacement and one day, while I was babbling about it to one of my teen employees, she threw up her hands and said, “How can you read such scary books?!”
Because when they are as good as The Replacement such scary books are so much fun, that frisson of fear running down your spine, because they keep you constantly on edge, desperate to know what happens next. The answer, I think, is because such scary books, horror novels, invoke primal reactions, things that ping our “reptile” brains. The best ones reassure us scary things, monsters, and horrors, might exist, but so do other things, like best friends that stick by you, sisters who love you, good rock and roll songs, odd girls who challenge you, and the ability to stand up and not look away.
The Replacement is one of the best ones! Perfect for teens looking for intense, quick reads, seriously creepy horror, and something truly original in the YA pack. It has romance, action, mystery, and dead girls who smell like rotten meat. I highly recommend it for grades 9-12, it’s going to be a book that gets them talking and keeps them up!
The Replacement doesn’t come out until September, my review copy was picked up from the Penguin Booth at Annual. I’d be giving mine away now, except I plan to make it an end of summer giveaway for my teens, who are already salivating for it after hearing me talk about it. (don’t forget to buy a copy or request your library order one come September!)
In the meantime, you can check out some of Brenna Yovanoff’s awesome short fiction online at the LiveJournal Merry Sisters of Fate, where she writes with Maggie Stiefvater and Tessa Gratton.
And get ready to stay up late for Mackie Doyle!