Half Life by Lillian Clark

Review by Sara Francoeur

Knopf Books for Young Readers, June 2020

304 pages, hardcover, CAD $23.99, 978-0525580508

Ages 13-18, Grades 9-12

Young Adult, Contemporary Realism, Science Fiction

She leads me in the direction of the conference room. With every step, the knot in my chest goes tight and tighter, until it’s so taut it hums.

And then we’re there.

Then she’s there.

“Lucille,” Dr. Thompson says, standing at the head of the table, “meet Lucy.”

She sits in the chair next to Dr. Kim across the table from me, her back to the courtyard with its brilliant sun streaming in around her. It catches her—my—hair, illuminating the flyaway strands like gold.

Her eyes meet mine. My eyes meet mine.

She leans forward, and her hair slips over her shoulder. I lift a hand to loop my own behind my ear and am legitimately unsettled when she doesn’t lift her hand too.

If you are anything like Lucille Harper—driven to excel at school and diligent about building up your resume for college applications—then having a living replica of yourself might seem like a solution to many problems. Two of yourself could mean being able to do more, to be in two places at the same time, to study more, all while having a busy social life!

So, when 16-year-old Lucille is contacted by Life2 Laboratory to become a test subject for a human cloning project, she agrees to try it out. After a cloning process, the details of which may enchant sci-fi buffs, Lucille begins a secret four-week “field test” of her clone whereby she must live her life, incorporating her clone without detection. LH2010.2 (Lucy) is an exact replica of Lucille. At first, Lucy is a huge help to Lucille, executing carefully orchestrated plans so that Lucille can “do more, be more,” as Life2 claims in the company slogan. But as you can imagine, things begin to get messier and messier until they completely turn upside down.

Half Life author Lillian Clark has crafted a diverse cast of characters that are highly relatable. The first part of the book introduces Lucille’s high school friends and establishes the high-stakes pressure she puts on herself to achieve near-perfect grades. Clark accurately depicts the reality of many high-schoolers, who are under constant pressure to plan for the future and prepare for highly competitive college applications at the expense of their mental health. Lucille is no exception. It is because she finds her world falling apart that she is so compelled to respond to the personalized solicitation from Life2 in the first place.

For the second half of the novel, the narrative point of view (POV) alternates between Lucy and Lucille, using clearly defined chapter titles to indicate whose perspective it is. The more the story unfolds, the more we begin to question which version of the protagonist is living the “better” or “real” life.

Divorce, romance, sex, underage drinking, and friendship troubles are all explored as Lucille navigates high school with the help of her clone. Half Life invites the reader to question whether a human clone has the capacity to develop a unique personality, or perhaps even a soul. Clark skillfully navigates these more philosophical points all within an approachable narrative. The climax and conclusion are especially exciting. Although unexpected, I could not have asked for a more satisfying ending.

Clark delivers a fast-paced and thought-provoking tale with a hint of sci-fi. I would put it into a contemporary “Lab Lit” sub-genre, since the characters seem realistic and very current and the science is not entirely far-fetched. If you enjoy a fun dual-POV story that challenges the way you look at life and what is possible in the not-so-distant future then you will love this book.

Sara Francoeur lives just outside of Vancouver, B.C. with her husband and three daughters. Sara enjoys walking on the beach with her dog, Pinterest crafts, TikTok dances, and painting. With a degree in comparative religion and a background in fashion, Sara now studies creative writing at UBC.

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