Published by Thomas Dunne Books on March 17th, 2015
Genres: paranormal, young adult
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A computer-hacking teen. The girl who wants to save him. And a rogue mirror reflection that might be the death of them both.
In private, seventeen-year-old Brandon hacks bank accounts just for the thrill of it. In public, he looks like any other tattooed bad boy with a fast car and devil-may-care attitude. He should know: he’s worked hard to maintain that façade. With inattentive parents who move constantly from city to city, he’s learned not to get tangled up in things like friends and relationships. So he’ll just keep living like a machine, all gears and wires.
Then two things shatter his carefully-built image: Emma, the kind, stubborn girl who insists on looking beneath the surface – and the small matter of a mirror reflection that starts moving by itself. Not only does Brandon’s reflection have a mind of its own, but it seems to be grooming him for something—washing the dye from his hair, yanking out his piercings, swapping his black shirts for … pastels. Then it tells him: it thinks it can live his life better, and it’s preparing to trade places.
And when it pulls Brandon through the looking-glass, not only will he need all his ill-gotten hacking skills to escape, but he’s going to have to face some hard truths about who he’s become. Otherwise he’ll be stuck in a digital hell until he’s old and gray, and no one will even know he's gone.
While I don’t necessarily love reading 3-star books, I do love writing 3-star reviews. These are the kinds of reviews where you can really get your hands dirty, digging to the heart of the story. They’re the easiest for me to write because for some reason, they just provide a lot of material, and you don’t have to be 100% negative about the book while doing it. Duplicity is one such book – I liked it enough but there are plenty of issues to really sink my teeth into here.
It’s interesting because there wasn’t one single Good Aspect of the book that was unsullied by the Bad. But at the same time, there wasn’t much awful about the book either that didn’t have its positives. The best part, for me, was the voice – upbeat and authentic. Being in Brandon’s head really kept the pages turning, even if I didn’t totally agree with everything Brandon was thinking. He felt pretty natural to me, though at the same time, I wish we could have gotten to know him better. The book starts right when the action starts, so there’s no real way to know who Brandon is when he isn’t reacting to the weird circumstances of the book. So I liked his voice, and I enjoy a real bad boy character – he’s got that rough exterior with tattoos and piercings and fast cars, he’s definitely a criminal, but he’s not a bad person and he’s just genuinely hurting. The combination was just right enough for me to keep reading.
Because of how the book starts, a lot of the romance just felt completely unbelievable. Seriously. The opening pages are just moments after a fight with the girl he likes, and we’re just supposed to believe he likes her. We don’t get see any of the shared history or any real connection between the two characters. Couple that with the fact that they are polar opposite, and I just couldn’t get behind the romance at all. And then there’s the issue with Brandon’s ex-girlfriend – 1) the way she is treated, and 2) the fact that he even HAD a girlfriend in the first place when the whole fight he had earlier was about not getting close to people. Ginger, Brandon’s ex, is a lot like him, at least when it comes to appearance. She has dyed hair and piercings and she wears combat boots and fishnets. Brandon is sort of part of the “goth” group of their school, so he and Ginger at least have that in common. From some scenes we see with them together, they also had a physical relationship. But they broke up before the start of the book and instead of Ginger being rightfully annoyed with him or even just sad about it, the book makes her out to be starved and desperate for attention, throwing herself at Brandon’s feet, begging him to come back to her, and trying to have sex with him to make it happen. He does not respect her in any way. When you look at how he treats Ginger, and the type of character Ginger is, and you compare that to “pure, angelic” Emma, who is as clean cut as you can get… well, I think you see my problem here. Maybe it’s because this is something I saw myself when I was in high school, but the girls like Ginger being constantly thrust into the “whore” half of the Virgin/Whore dichotomy just really bothers me. Also, the way Brandon thought about Ginger sometimes REALLY pissed me off – like saying he was going to physically hurt her. Yeah, that doesn’t go well around these parts. Another scene late in the book has Brandon trying to break through this code and he can’t, and it pisses him off because a girl wrote it. So anyway, Brandon was kind of a sexist pig and of course that bothered me a LOT.
The beginning of Duplicity spends a lot of time introducing us to characters in Brandon’s school that end up not at all important later. There’s the “creepy” goth girl who is Ginger’s best friend, a bunch of scary goth guys (with names like Sniper and Deathrow), there’s Jason – the pretty boy counterpoint to Brandon’s bad boy persona, and there is even a stereotypical blonde “slut.” After like, page 70, none of these characters matter anymore, so I was just left wondering why we even had to get to know them.
Now, one thing I do like is the portrayal of Brandon’s family. He is an only child to two overworked executive types who are very hands-off in their parenting philosophy unless Brandon does something they don’t like. They don’t show him a lot of attention at all except for negative attention when he does something wrong. And years of this will really start to wear on a person. Brandon, being their child after all, still holds onto hope that one day they’ll see him for who he is and love him anyway. He desperately tries to squash that hope, calling himself “childish” and even “pathetic” and honestly? All of that was really, really heartbreaking. Despite Brandon’s faults, it was hard to watch him go through this. What I didn’t like was, toward the end, a character tries to tell Brandon that if he just helped out around the house or something or got good grades, his parents would treat him better. I am firmly in the camp of You Shouldn’t Have To Earn Your Parents’ Love (ESPECIALLY by doing chores. Like, what the actual fuck.) So of course, this bothered me.
I don’t want to talk a whole lot about the Brandon in the Mirror thing. Basically, Brandon wakes up one day and his reflection starts acting with a mind of its own. This Other Brandon – or Obran – starts changing Brandon’s appearance. He takes out the multitude of facial piercings, he un-dyes his hair, he changes his wardrobe. He even goes so far as to remove Brandon’s tattoos. Look, these scenes were creepy as hell. Seeing a flicker of movement out of the corner of your eye while looking in the mirror? Get the hell out of here. The explanation, and the half of the book that followed, kind of went completely over my head, but then, I don’t really read a whole lot of science fiction. I can’t really go into it anymore without spoiling, but let’s just say that what was going on behind the mirror was confusing, but also terrifying, and actually kind of cool.
Okay, I think I’ve gone on long enough! I didn’t know what to expect when I cracked open my copy of Duplicity, and I can’t say that I was let down. There were a lot of problems with the characters, especially the way the female characters were dealt with (I mean, the villains were women too, what the hell.) But I did enjoy seeing characters that high-school Bekka would have totally identified with. The science fiction side of this book was a ton of fun, and it was quick and fast paced, keeping me up well into the night so I could finally find out how it ends. The ending was sinister and exciting – I really hope there’s a sequel!