September 21, 2010
Received via Star Book Tours for review
Gentry isn't your typical quaint suburban town. The problems here don't revolve around getting kids to school on time, working long hours, or even paying a variety of bills. Gentry has a very specific set of problems. Every seven years, a child is taken and replaced with something else, something not quite right that dies shortly after the switch is made.
Instead of searching for answers and preventing the swaps from taking place, the people of Gentry pretend it isn't happening. Things are the way they are, and that's how it will always be.
Mackie Doyle just happens to be one of the replacements, only he didn't die. He's grown up with an aversion to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, but he's alive when so many others have perished. Now the sequence is starting all over again with a young girl getting replaced, and Mackie is slowly learning the truth the town of Gentry is so determined to ignore. Continuing on stifled by oppressive silence is no longer an option for him.
The crowning achievement of this book is it's underlying message. Children in Gentry are dying, yet not a single voice rises out of the masses to object. The collective inaction of the town is shocking, and serves as an exaggerated example of how the true betrayal of humanity is indifference. The root of evil lies not just in the malicious deeds of others or in the people that exist at the opposite end of the spectrum, but also, and perhaps more importantly, in the good people who choose to look the other way. The idea that those whose hands are literally coated in the blood of the innocent might share equal culpability for the dark deeds committed with those who merely do nothing to prevent them makes The Replacement a very thought-provoking read.
Mackie is other. People would say he's a part of what plagues the town of Gentry, where the desire for prosperity has bred complacency to such a degree that the inhabitants turn a blind eye to the deaths of their own children. With each child's death, those who mastermind the switches grant the town good fortune, so the citizens continue to remain passive. But it's not Mackie, nor any of those like him, who is the true monster. He may be less than human by the town's definition, but it's his voice, with the help of friends Tate and Roswell, that rises out of the dark and dank and dares to question. This book truly makes the reader reflect on what it means to be human, and how thin the veil between good and evil can truly be.
Though the message is beautifully woven through this story, it's power resonating deep under the reader's skin with every word read, the ending leaves a little to be desired. This book is about choices. Choosing to step forward when others would cower back. Choosing to fight when others would simply comply. But yet, when the final showdown is reached, Mackie is still the only one to make a decision. He looks back to see his friends rendered immobile, leaving him to his fate as he propels himself forward into the hands of the enemy. Are they outnumbered? Absolutely. But inaction can be rationalized in any number of ways and the end result is still the same: no one acts. That's been the point from the beginning, and I hoped that Mackie's strength of character would have taken root and spread a bit further by the end. Surely if one can make a stand, so can many.
My other small issue is with Tate and Mackie's relationship. The story itself is so strong that the relationships between the individual characters seem to get overwhelmed. Tate flits back and forth emotionally, harboring anger and resentment for Mackie over the disappearance of her sister one minute, then feigning interest the next. Mackie seems fairly content with either outcome, whether they are friends or something more, and it seems as though the story would have been just as brutally honest and ultimately just as successful had the romantic subplot been nonexistent.
There are a few problems, but overall this is a dark and compelling story, full of beguiling creatures that force us to closely examine our day to day choices, and make us acutely aware of the extreme consequences of our own apathy.