Brenna Yovanoff’s YA novel The Replacement is quite unlike anything I have read before, which is a good thing. It was well-reviewed when it debuted in 2010 and I have been wanting to read it for a while. I was particularly intrigued by the cover, which is creepy, although I try not to chose books based on their cover alone – that has lead me down a few crap book paths.
Gentry isn’t like other places and Mackie isn’t like other 16-year-olds. He’s a replacement, left in the crib of a human baby who was spirited away by the strange inhabitants of the the labyrinthine world beneath Gentry.
Mackie lives with his older sister, Emma and his parents. He has a best friend, Roswell. He has a crush on a pretty girl, Alice. But he also can’t abide blood. Or get close to anything made of stainless steel. Or go to church, even though his father is a preacher.
Mackie knows he is different. “I dream of fields,” he says, “dark tunnels, but nothing is clear. I dream that a dark shape puts me in the crib, puts a hand over my mouth, and whispers in my ear. Shh, it says. And, Wait. “
The way his sister tells it, someone took her real brother in the middle of the night when she was four years old.
When she reaches her hand between the bars, the thing in the crib moves closer. It tries to bite her and she takes her hand out again but doesn’t back away. They spend all night looking at each other in the dark. In the morning, the thing is still crouched on the lamb-and-duckling mattress pad, staring at her. It isn’t her brother.
When the little sister of Mackie’s classmate, Tate, goes missing, Mackie is forced to confront his own origin story and this leads him the The House of Mayhem and The Morrigan, a girl who rules there and whose “jagged teeth and tiny size made her seem more implausible, more impossible than all the rest.” All the rest of what, you might ask? Yeah, that would be the living dead girls. The Morrigan tells him “We were so pleased that you survived childhood. Castoffs generally don’t.”
When Tate asks for Mackie’s help, he is reluctant; he’s got his own problems. But when The Morrigan offers to help Mackie feel better even he can’t resist. There is a strange barter system between Mayhem and Gentry: Mayhem thrives on adulation. But Mayhem isn’t the only world beneath the town. The Morrigan has a sister, and she thrives on blood sacrifice.
Mackie doesn’t fit in, but whether or not Yovanoff meant for his journey to be a metaphor (like Joss Whedon’s monsters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) hardly matters because The Replacement is a thrill ride.