Words on Words: Dual feature
Here you will find a two pronged2 feature, a review and an interview with the author, of Dualed, by Elsie Chapman, which is coming out on Feb. 26.
There are some plot elements, vampires, sex, kids killing other kids, which are the equivalent of sheep brains in cuisine, the very fact of their presence will affect the experience of many readers, particularly adults. This is true despite it being equally true that tone is everything.
Let's take kids killing other kids, a theme shared by two books, Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. The visceral tone of Battle Royale works splendidly as an indictment of societal fears of youth violence ultimately making that anxiety a reality. It has a profoundly adult tone and is in no way a children's book. The Hunger Games shares many of Battle Royale's plot elements but its tone and careful avoidance of full scale trauma, of not having Katniss kill Rue for example, makes the book fully engaging as a 12 and up. This is not as true of Mockingjay, and this shift of tone caused confusion in younger readers.
Dualed, by Elsie Chapman, is a fascinating study in the variance of subject and tone. In the future walled city of Kersh citizens earn the right to become adults, or Completes, by killing their genetic twin, or Alt, who has been raised by a different family somewhere in the city. The killing of one or the other Alt takes place when the two alts go active sometime between the age of 10 and 19. Thirty days are allotted for the completion. Failure of either one results in death to both via a self destruct feature in their eye implants. Dualed is marvelously well realized, and has a gripping narrative and terrific characters. The tone has a hard edge but is very much YA appropriate. Kids will love this book. The fact scenario will horrify most adults sight unseen though. Ten year olds out alone in the city required to kill a version of themselves?
Fascinatingly the book does challenge the basic societal assumption of having created a city of killers and survivors to help endure in a violent world, but it doesn't either reject or affirm it. In fact it leans towards a qualified affirmation. This makes for a very genuine and consistent feel. Dualed is not an allegory, it is an internally consistent fantasy. As much of a leap as its core concept is Chapman backs it up by convincingly depicting the accommodations the citizens of Kersh have made, and the persistence of humanity within their lives. Kersh's philosophy of becoming complete, of being proved worthy, of being the one, resonates in the context of the story. Dualed is a terrific book and I hope it survives the adult scrutiny of those outside its walls, most of whom won't have read it.
Kenny: The idea of Alts really takes root in one's thoughts. In fact it takes a supreme effort of will to suppress the impulse to work it into questions and comments. If I wasn't so vigilant I would probably be asking you dumb questions like, 'If your Alt had written Dualed how would it be different.' Why do you think the concept comes so naturally to us?
Elsie: That's actually a really interesting idea, DUALED being written from West's Alt's point of view. I think it's reflective of that thought process a lot of us have: if I'd done this differently, would things have turned out better? Worse? If I'd chosen another path, what would my life be like now? Imagining things from another perspective can be reassuring in that it helps us believe we made the right decisions. But it's tricky, too, if we constantly start living with the words "what if" running through our heads. It's a tough balance, being okay with what we've done and, by default, what we chose not to do.
Kenny: One of the most visceral reading experiences is to like, and strongly identify with a character, such as Alex in A Clockwork Orange, who proceeds to do things that make you profoundly uncomfortable. Your narrator, West Grayer, is very much a character along those lines. I think many readers will feel very connected with her, and then find themselves challenged by her activities as a Striker. What were your thoughts on strongly enforcing the norms of her fictional future society over the established norms of ours?
Elsie: It's great to hear West getting that kind of reception, thank you! I really wanted to make her relatable and realistic, but, yes, her world and how it works is just so different from ours. What she ends up doing and the choices she makes in her world—justified as they might be for her to survive—are very questionable in the context of ours. What I think ultimately makes her character work is West's own sense of doubt and unsurety. She hates herself for what she does, but tells herself she has no other choice. A lot of that emotion is universal, and just circles back to human nature and the complexity of it.
Kenny: Obviously the whole nature versus nurture thing isn't really an either or situation, but Dualed provides a highly interesting exploration of this aspect of personal identity. Do you see the scale tipping one way or the other?
Elsie: It's such a complicated issue, the nature vs nurture debate. And you're right, it's not so clear cut that you can say it's an either or situation. In DUALED, Alts aren't twins torn apart to be raised by separate families as much as they are two distinct representations of the same person. It's two alternate versions of oneself. Nature and nurture both come into play when it comes to determining which Alt is stronger.
Kenny: I'm curious why, given the scientifically produced nature of children in Kersh, they are raised in traditional family structures, especially since it has such a likelihood of intensifying the trauma of completions?
Elsie: I think giving Alts childhoods and family structures that are utterly familiar—what in many ways defines safe to us—really does perfectly emphasize the horror of their assignments and the harsh task of completion. It provides one more level on which readers can relate to Alts because we fear that kind of loss, too—comfort, home, family. So the setting not only works to drive that stark contrast home for readers, it also makes Alts themselves realize what's at stake. How it's not just physical survival but being able to continue the lives they've already come to know and love.
Kenny: I'm really looking forward to the sequel to Dualed. Will Divided put the society of Kersh on trial, or will it simply be another great story set in Kersh?
Elsie: A lot of dystopian fiction focuses on a rebellion against society—some of my very favourite dystopian books are as such! But what I knew going into writing DUALED was that I didn't want to do that. I was more interested in exploring West's inner struggles. It's still a story about conflict, just on a different scale. So with DIVIDED, I know for sure I'll want to dive even further into West as an individual. As to how much more of a role Kersh will play this time around, I can't say…yet. I hope that's not too cryptic!
Kenny: Thanks Elsie!
Elsie: It was my pleasure Kenny.
2Notice that I restrained myself from using the term dual feature.