Those two little words are the prompt that sows the seed of a story idea in an author’s mind. As a reader, you don’t always notice them. In fact, you’re more likely to notice them if the writer fails to deliver on them. In science fiction though, the ‘what if’ tends to come with bells on: What if someone built a person from parts of dead bodies and brought it to life? What if a crazy scientist sent a teenager back in time?
In Kathryn Evan’s debut novel, More of Me, sixteen-year-old Teva has a genetic condition which means that each year a new Teva bursts out of the body of the old one, like an insect shedding its skin as it grows. But, unlike an insect, the previous Tevas are not shucked off as a dead skin; they continue to live, unchanging, confined to the house by their mother, who lives in fear that someone will discover the secret. It’s a fabulous what-if: a concept you puzzle over as you read, as Teva tries to work out what it means and what she can do about it, a what-if pulled in every possible direction: how does are Teva’s friendships affected? Is her boyfriend really hers, or does he belong to her younger/older sister Fifteen, who had him first? How can Teva get help? Is it possible for her to think about the future when – too soon – a new Teva will arrive and this one will be shut away with the other versions of herself?
Of course, More of Me isn’t just about the problems of a teen with freaky insect regeneration issues. Here are the questions that affect every teenager: when is Mum going to let me make decisions about my life? How do I actually feel about my boyfriend? Should I try to ignore the day-to-day complexities of living in order to achieve something in the future? And the notion of a houseful of past selves is a reflection of the way people seek to disassociate themselves from their earlier desires and mistakes and ways of being; those photo-album moments when we look at ourselves and go, ‘what did I think I looked like?’
More of Me rushes along at the kind of breathless pace that keeps you glued to it far later into the night than you really ought to be reading. Kathryn Evans totally delivers on her what-if, leaving you in that perfect post-story state of mind when you start what-if-ing yourself about the future of the characters you’ve just left.
I’ll be looking out for the next what-if from Kathryn Evans.
Claire Watts writes and edits fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. Her latest YA novel is How Do You Say GOOSEBERRY in French? You can read the first chapter here.
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