Book Review: Once We Were by Kat Zhang
Goodreads Description: Eva was never supposed to have survived this long. As the recessive soul, she should have faded away years ago. Instead, she lingers in the body she shares with her sister soul, Addie. When the government discovered the truth, they tried to “cure” the girls, but Eva and Addie escaped before the doctors could strip Eva’s soul away.
Now fugitives, Eva and Addie find shelter with a group of hybrids who run an underground resistance. Surrounded by others like them, the girls learn how to temporarily disappear to give each soul some much-needed privacy. Eva is thrilled at the chance to be alone with Ryan, the boy she’s falling for, but troubled by the growing chasm between her and Addie. Despite clashes over their shared body, both girls are eager to join the rebellion.
Yet as they are drawn deeper into the escalating violence, they start to wonder: How far are they willing to go to fight for hybrid freedom? Faced with uncertainty and incredible danger, their answers may tear them apart forever.
My Review: Once We Were picks up just after What’s Left of Me, where our main characters have settled into hiding. They’ve escaped the institution that wanted to destroy their recessive souls and have set their sights on trying to combat the oppressive government. I was not as fond of this book as I was the first book. I found the tension to be lacking and the pace to be particularly slow for the first 2/3 of the book. While What’s Left Of Me focused more on Addie and Eva and was a very character-driven story, there was a definite shift in tone for Once We Were. This book still focused on Addie and Eva, the relationship between them and the other hybrids, but began branching out and started to almost seep into dystopian territory. It was a natural progression to the story, and though it fits, I found myself a little disappointed that the story seemed to be going in that direction, as I felt the first book was so much more successful in endearing the characters to the reader and creating strong stakes.
For the majority of the book, Addie and Eva are living in an apartment building being hidden away with some of the other hybrids that broke out of the institution. She begins sneaking away to join meetings with some of the other hybrids who are plotting ways they can stop the upcoming “cure” for hybridity. The stakes are really low for a majority of the book, and though a threat of capture or exposure is high, it doesn’t feel like a pressing concern. Throughout the book, we get to see the progression of Eva and Ryan’s romance and see some tension creeping in between Addie and Eva. IMO, the relationship between Addie and Eva is the best part of the book, and in Once We Were we begin to see some shifting between them. Suddenly they’re keeping secrets, are able to go into a coma-like sleep to give each other privacy, and Eva is hyper-focused on making her own decisions and trying to live for the first time in however many years that she begins to take Addie for granted. All this makes for a great conflict between them.
I didn’t get excited about the book until later in, when stakes are actually put in place. Once it is revealed that the empty institution the hybrids plan on blowing up won’t be so empty, the book really kicks off and it’s a quick paced ride to the end. Despite the low stakes, Kat Zhang has really beautiful prose and a way of balancing between character and plot to create a really full, well-developed story. Her characters are fully fleshed out, though there wasn’t anyone, besides Addie and Eva, who I really overly loved.
Overall, the lack of tension did disappoint me, but every time I picked it up I found myself fully engaged in the story and characters. I’m interested to see how the third book will play out, and I hope Kat Zhang can continue to keep the balance between character and plot, as to not fall too deep into the dystopian atmosphere.
TL;DR: Slow but solid. 4/5 stars