Book Review: Duplicity
by N. K. Traver
Thomas Dunne Books, 2015
Given the nature of their target audience, it’s hardly surprising that Young Adult novels deal with questions of identity as compulsively as adult novels deal with questions of sexual fidelity. It’s the misfortune of both these preoccupations that they’re so elementarily boring, but even so, there are levels of effort, and N. K. Traver’s new YA novel Duplicity is as entertaining a debut along its familiar lines as the year has seen so far.
And the question of identity in Duplicity couldn’t be any more intimate: seventeen-year-old Brandon Eriks, the rebellious tattooed and lip-pierced son of clueless, wealthy parents, is having the most fundamental identity crisis of them all: he’s starting to part ways with his own reflection in the mirror.
Brandon is a bratty amateur cyber-hooligan, hacking accounts and discreetly siphoning profits, putting up an armored wall of mouthy defiance that prevents anybody from getting close to him – anybody, that is, except the virtuous Emma, who sees past his facade and loves him with a devotion that’s very reciprocated. As the novel opens, he’s receiving anonymous email threats of vague retribution, threats he’s confident to ignore until he notices his reflection in the mirror blinking and realizes you’re not supposed to be able to see yourself blink.
From that tiny discrepancy grows a wholly separate – and malevolent – version of himself, a mirror-Brandon he comes to call Obran. At first Brandon is incredulous. “Viruses stay on computers,” he tries to reassure himself, “they don’t turn into magic curses.” But gradually it becomes obvious that Obran has more in mind than simple mischief: in painful gestures of altering Brandon’s real-world existence, Obran removes his piercings and shifts his tattoos, steadily remaking him into a more clean-cut and approachable Brandon. And there’s an ulterior motive, of course:
“What do you want?” I say.
My double smiles and draws a finger through the mist on the mirror.
I’M PREPARING YOU.
“Preparing me for what?”
His smile twists. New words drip down the glass.
“What does that mean?”
He clicks off the light.
Darkness chokes in on me like a fist. There are no windows in our bathroom, so the only light’s a pale slit of sun beneath the door, not enough to give shape or meaning to anything around me. To stop from hyperventilating. I convince myself that if he wanted to hurt me, he would’ve done it already. Besides, all he’s done so far is take out a few earrings and move some things around. Hardly dangerous. Fear is for people whose moms dress them for school. I sigh (sounding far less confident than I like) and grope for a towel.
Not many chapters have passed before Brandon finds himself swapped out entirely for his new duplicate, trapped in the mirror while Obran lives his life – in fact, our young hero is particularly outraged at all the ways Obran seems to be improving his life. Brandon must find a way to make allies in the mirror-universe and use whatever scrappy skills he has to retake his life.
Again, fairly familiar stuff, but Traver pulls it off with wonderful energy and a good ear for dialogue. The book’s ending promises sequels, and it’s a safe bet that most of the book’s readers will want them.