Once We Were
Series: Hybrid Chronicles, #2
Released: September 17th, 2013
Rating: 3.5 stars
Word Rating: Slow, but good
Reviewed by: Blythe
"I'm lucky just to be alive"
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.
Once We Were has left me feeling a whole bunch of conflicted feelings. I did enjoy it as a whole (hence the 3.5 star rating), but it is undeniable that the reading experience I had with Once We Were differs greatly from the one I had while reading its predecessor, What's Left of Me. Going over my notes as I am writing this review (which is, and will continue to be rather unconventional for me, as you'll soon discover (but speaking of which, let me know how you like this format)), what worked for me in Once We Were did largely outweigh what did not work for me, but the two things that did not work for me impacted my reading experience well enough to warrant the 3.5 star rating, even though I have many things to praise when it comes to this novel.
What didn't work for me in Once We Were:
THE PACING: The pacing in Once We Were is, beyond the shadow a doubt, the largest issue at hands for me. Now, I like to think of myself as a fairly patient reader. If a book takes a quarter of the novel for at least a semblance plot to get going, that is generally fine by me. As I near the halfway mark and there is still not a definitive plot or any shred of action aside from dialog, that's where my patience will begin to wear thin. And that's what happened in Once We Were. Throughout the vast majority of Once We Were (three quarters of the novel), everything is all talk. The character plan all these revolts, and take action with one or two of them, but the revolt sequences are quick and not very thrilling. I almost feel like this novel was a tease over 250 pages long, dragging me along for the action to finally come in the last hundred or so pages (or the last quarter, which I will discuss later). Needless to say, because of this, and the next thing that didn't work for me in Once We Were, I felt pretty detached at times.
THE LACK OF AN EMOTIONAL CONNECTION: This issue is, surprisingly, not nearly as great as the issue I had with the novel's pacing, but my lack of an emotional connection with the characters this time around certainly left a mark. In What's Left of Me, I really, truly cared for Eva and Addie and the secondary cast of characters. I, unfortunately, can't say the same when it comes to Once We Were. With this installment, I found myself caring about what happened to Eva and Addie, but I was never really actively hoping they'd be okay, because, bringing it back to the first point, there wasn't much action to make me consider that they wouldn't be okay. Just as a whole with the characters, I didn't feel wholly engaged in what was happening to them, regardless of how truly well written the character development in this novel is. Which brings me to...
What did work for me in Once We Were:
EVA AND HER CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Just like she did in What's Left of Me, Eva really did grow a lot in Once We Were, and her subtle character development was genuinely well-written. (Eva's gradual decline in referring to herself and Addie as a unit, as she begins to refer to herself as one separate entity, using the words "I" or "my" at portions when earlier on she would used the words "we" or "our.") The unfurling of Eva's insecurities, and watching her begin to embrace herself was truly something I enjoyed experiencing, and it only reinforces that Kat Zhang is excellent at character and relationship development, which brings me to my next point...
THE RELATIONSHIP DEVELOPMENT/ROMANCE: The relationship development, namely Eva and Addie's relationship, is just as exceptional as the development of Eva's character. I'm going to keep this portion of the review blunt, as it won't be too difficult to divulge into some minor spoilers or insinuate minor spoilers, but Once We Were puts a good chunk of the characters' relationships to test. Seeing some of the relationships tumble, then slowly rebuild themselves in a subtle and believable way was something I really enjoyed reading, and along with that, the romance was really well-written too. Clearly, a romance may be hard to write between two people who essentially are really four, and you could expect a lot of angst and drama, but Kat Zhang manages to pull romance off very well in Once We Were.
THE LAST QUARTER: This portion of the review will also be pretty brief, considering...well, I'll be discussing the last quarter of the novel, and don't want to spoil anything for anyone. But, this is the part of the novel when all that dialog is for something--when everything happens. It has its thrilling moments, and its poignant moments, and all around it is just a great ending. Whether or not it made up for having to wait three quarters for it to happen, though, will vary from reader to reader.
Although it is at times achingly slow and uneventful, Kat Zhang makes up for the issues with the plot in Once We Were with her impeccable writing and character/relationship development skills. Zhang's prose is just as amazing and engrossing in Once We Were as it was in What's Left of Me, and Once We Were ends on enough of a cliffhanger (but a bearable one), that I am eagerly anticipating the final book in the Hybrid Chronicles, despite the issues I may have had with this second installment.