This science fiction/suspense novel by Margaret Peterson Haddix is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division and a trademark of Simon & Schuster Inc., and is written for kids ages 10 to 14 years. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Mom cries all the time. Dad acts strange and nervous. Suddenly, 12-year-old Bethany Cole finds herself in the car with them, frantically driving across several states in the dead of night. With no explanation, they leave her at a house in Illinois with a woman Dad calls Aunt Myrlie. Myrlie is visibly shaken to see Dad, and she's even more stunned when she sees Bethany. "She looks just like . . ." she begins. Mom and Dad, upset and weeping, drive off into the night, leaving Bethany with a stranger and a hundred unanswered questions.
Later, Bethany hears Myrlie talking to Dad on the phone. Myrlie says he has to tell Bethany about Elizabeth. Bethany begins asking questions, and Dad, who vaguely indicates by phone that he's in danger, allows Myrlie to tell Bethany about the past. Bethany learns that Elizabeth was her parents' first daughter, a sister she never knew existed. Myrlie is her mom's sister, and the two families lived near one another when Elizabeth and Myrlie's daughter, Joss, were young. Elizabeth and Joss were cousins, best friends and Olympic gymnastic hopefuls. But around the girls' 13th birthdays, the two families made a road trip in which an accident took the lives of Elizabeth and Myrlie's husband. Bethany's mom, who was driving, always blamed herself for the crash. After that, Bethany's parents left town. Myrlie hadn't seen or heard from them in years, until the night they left Bethany with her. Bethany is also shocked to learn that her father, whom she always believed to be some kind of money manager, used to be a doctor.
Joss comes to stay with Myrlie and Bethany. They watch old videos, and Bethany is struck by how much she looks like Elizabeth. They don't just resemble one another; it's as though they were twins. During her time with her aunt and cousin, she discovers many ways in which she is similar to her dead sister. She also becomes increasingly aware the life she's been living is a lie. Her father sends a package containing several birth certificates for Bethany, all with different last names and cities of birth. He also sends wads of $100 bills. Myrlie, Joss and Bethany can only speculate what Bethany's dad might have done for that cash or what kind of trouble he's in. Mom calls during one of her delusional episodes, creating more questions. She calls Bethany "Elizabeth" and says Dad believes if they save enough of her cells, they can clone her. Now Bethany wonders if her mother's ravings could contain any truth.
Around the same time, a man in a car with out-of-town plates starts following Bethany. Another incoherent letter from Dad indicates someone who just got out of prison is chasing him and hunting him down, so he can't come back. Joss and Bethany read a news article about a man named Van Dyne who was imprisoned for stealing money. His company was involved in cloning. Bethany recognizes the name of one of the fictitious employees through whom he supposedly filtered funds as an alias Dad had used.
Bethany's parents secretly return to town, but Van Dyne discovers them. The truth is revealed, that Van Dyne had paid Bethany's father to clone him. Now that Van Dyne is out of prison, he is searching for the version of him Dad had supposedly made. In fact, Dad had never made a Van Dyne clone but had taken the money to clone Elizabeth instead. The epilogue reveals that Bethany's parents are able to stay with her. Dad returns all of Van Dyne's money. Van Dyne has long talks with Joss; she says he is such a lonely man, he thought no one but his own clone could love him. He changes his ways and becomes a philanthropist. Bethany continues to learn who she is, apart from Elizabeth, and discover she is valued as an individual by her family.
Bethany quotes one of her old teachers, who said "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." She thinks it may be from the Bible.
Joss is a minister. She wears a sweatshirt and jeans with a hole in the knee, which shatters Bethany's image of what a minister should look like. Joss tells Bethany Myrlie thinks she (Joss) is at the wrong church. When Joss sees the mess in her mother's closet, she jokingly asks if her mom has ever read the passage in the Bible about not storing up treasures where dust and moth can consume them. When Bethany learns Joss majored in both theology and biology, she asks if that was a confusing combination. Joss says it wasn't, because science and religion deal with different questions. Science is the how things happen, and religion is the why. She chose to study theology after losing Elizabeth and her father and dealing with many questions about the nature of God. She wondered if God goofed, and she was the one who was supposed to die. She also wondered, if it wasn't a mistake, why God would want her dad and cousin dead.
Bethany begins to ponder why her parents played God, if God might want her, too, since He wanted Elizabeth, etc. Joss says questions like that are hopeless, because you can drive yourself crazy trying to make God's will so categorized and simplistic. She explains she doesn't think God wanted anyone to die, but He let it happen because of free will. She mentions Einstein's quote that God doesn't play dice.
When reading Dad's letter, Bethany learns her parents chose her name from the Bible. Joss explains that Bethany was the town where Lazarus died and Jesus brought him back to life. In a way, Bethany's parents had tried to do the same with their first daughter.
Joss tells Bethany that life always wins in the end. Bethany comes to understand that better. She recognizes that because of Elizabeth's death, Joss became a minister and another of their friends became a police officer to help others. She sees how her parents cheated Van Dyne, but now he is helping troubled kids.
Myrlie asks Bethany if it's OK for her to go to church on Bethany's first Sunday in town. Myrlie says she really needs to go. Bethany, whose parents never took her to church, asks Myrlie if she'd get in trouble with her daughter for skipping, as if Joss kept track of her attendance. Myrlie explains that going to church helps her feel better when life is emotionally taxing. It helps her feel more focused on what really matters. Myrlie jokes that her great-aunt Agatha would have been scandalized by the idea of them all playing cards on Sunday, and with a minister, no less.
Other Belief Systems
Joss says that around the time she was in college, a wacko religious sect called the Raelians claimed to have produced a human clone. In an interview prior to prison, Van Dyne says the first person who can prove he's created a human clone would be a modern god. In fact, he would replace God.
The words darn and gosh appear.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- With what issues and questions does Bethany struggle when she learns she may be Elizabeth's clone?
To what conclusion does she ultimately come concerning how she needs to live her life?
What have you learned or read about cloning prior to this story?
- How realistic is this story regarding a complication that could happen with cloning?
What other complications might happen that this story didn't cover?
Why does Joss say she wasn't in conflict while studying science and religion at the same time?
- Do science and religion contradict or complement one another? Explain your answer.
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Readability Age Range
10 to 14
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division and a trademark of Simon & Schuster Inc.
Nutmeg Children's Book Award, 2010