Thursday, January 22, 2009

Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Main Character: Twelve-year-old Bethany
Location: One of those I-states--Indiana? Illinois?--in the center of the country
Time period: Contemporary (or slightly in the future)
Genre: J Fiction, Science Fiction, Cloning

When Bethany is almost thirteen, her mother begins crying and cannot stop. Bethany's father packs them into the car and drives until they reach a house in a small town in the middle of the night. There he drops Bethany into the care of her Aunt Mylie, a woman she has never met--or even heard of--until this moment. Then both he and her mother disappear into the night, leaving Bethany alone, confused, and afraid. What is wrong with her mother? Who is the strange man in the dark car who seems to be watching her? And why do so many people in this town seem to recognize her and call her Elizabeth?

As I read this book, it struck me that identity is a recurring theme for Haddix. In her Hidden Children series, third children are denied their identities by law and have to choose between being officially non-existant and hiding in an underground world, or assuming someone else's identity. In her new series, The Missing, 36 children are taken from their own times and given new identities in the future. Here, Bethany learns that she is a clone and begins to question her identity as a human being. Is she her own person, or is she just a photocopy of Elizabeth?

Like Robin Wasserman's Skinned, Meg Cabot's Airhead, and Peter Dickinson's Eva, (and The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson, which I am in the process of reading) we see parents who are not ready to release a child who has died and who grab at any available straws to bring her back to life. (Has anyone read a book where it is a son who is brought back?) But in trying to recreate a life that's been lost, they wind up making things harder for everyone and in some cases are unable to accept the substitute.

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