Sunday, November 2, 2008

Skinned by Robin Wasserman

Main Character: Lia Kahn
Location: undefined
Time period: a post-apocalyptic future
Genre: YA Fiction, Sci-Fi, Dystopian

Lia Kahn had a perfect life. She was the most popular girl in school; she had the most desirable boyfriend; what she thought, what she said, what she wore set the standards for being one of the cool kids. And then she died in a freak accident. Her father, unable to bear the loss, has her brain dowloaded into a mechanical body. She has Lia's memories, but is she really still Lia?

The society that Lia lives in feels a bit like that of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series or M.T. Anderson's Feed--everyone is wired in to a central network and communication is almost instantaneous. It is set far into the future, after a nuclear holocaust destroyed most of the cities, and most of the people live in Corps towns--towns run by the corporations the people work for. But Lia's family is one of society's elite, so they live in an exclusive community where they don't have to see the dreariness of the corps towns or the ruins of the cities.

But that's just the trappings--the real story is inside Lia, as she adjusts to her new life. Her family can't quite accept her--even her father, who thought he wanted this, just looks through her or around her, never at her. Her sister, Zoe, is openly hostile, claiming Lia's friends--even her boyfriend--for her own to protect them from what Lia has become. Religious fanatics, the Faithers, call her an abomination. The class nerd, Auden, someone she never would have spoken to before, becomes her only friend, but does he really like her for herself or is he just fascinated by her technology? Worst of all, Lia finds that she can't really feel anything--only really intense sensations register. Things she used to love have no meaning for her anymore. Is she really still Lia, or has she been made into someone else? Is she defined by her exterior? Is she defined by how others see her? Or does she define herself?

In some ways, Skinned reminded me of Peter Dickinson's 1989 novel, Eva. In that book, Eva is nearly killed in a freak accident and her father, an animal researcher, transplants her brain into the body of a chimpanzee. Eva goes through a number of the same processes that Lia does until she can finally, like Lia, find her own place in the world.

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