Published by Random House on 06-02-2014
Audrey's father taught her that to stay human in the modern world, she had to build a moat around herself; a moat of books and music, philosophy and dreams. A moat that makes Audrey different from the echoes: sophisticated, emotionless machines, built to resemble humans and to work for human masters. Daniel is an echo - but he's not like the others. He feels a connection with Audrey; a feeling Daniel knows he was never designed to have, and cannot explain. And when Audrey is placed in terrible danger, he's determined to save her. The Echo Boy is a powerful story about love, loss and what makes us truly human
In a world dominated by technology, and changed almost beyond recognition by global warming, echoes have almost become part of the landscape. Enhanced flesh and bone robots built to look and sound like humans, echoes are used for anything from household chores to manual labour. Finally, after much coaxing, Audrey’s famously anti-echo father agrees that they can have a household echo of their own, to help with Audrey’s schooling mostly. Audrey has always been a little creeped out by echoes but she has no idea just how much her world is about to be changed by one.
I really really wanted to love Echo Boy. I raved about Matt Haig’s last novel, The Humans, to anyone who would listen and it was one of my favourite books of last year. Even without knowing Echo Boy was written by Matt Haig though, it was a blurb I would have been unable to resist. So, a great blurb and an author whose work I’d previously loved – sounds like a guaranteed winner right? Well…yes and no.
I loved Daniel – an echo who isn’t quite like the other echoes. He shouldn’t feel anything, he should just obey orders, pretty much mindlessly. Despite that, he can’t quite defy his need to protect Audrey, to save her from the danger he knows she is in. Although the bulk of the story is from Audrey’s point of view, we have a few chapters from Daniel’s which really help you get inside his head.
Audrey is a fifteen year old girl, facing grief and fear, forced to question everything she believes. She’s been raised by a very publicly anti-echo father who believes that eventually there will be an echo uprising. She is now faced with her uncle, who profits substantially from echoes and believes they are a great thing. But for the first time, Audrey is now beginning to question her own feelings about echoes, and I loved reading about her struggle to find her own opinion. Despite the terrible events throughout the book, Audrey is a pretty normal teenager – she makes mistakes, she takes a while to figure things out, she has mood swings and self-confidence issues. Those little flaws made her feel three-dimensional and easy to relate to.
Whilst I really liked Audrey and Daniel separately, I wasn’t sold on the romance in Echo Boy. It felt almost like there was no real relationship and then a sudden tipping point, and although I could believe the bond between the two, I didn’t really feel like there was any chemistry. The two go through a lot in the book, but the relationship almost felt just like a devoted friendship.
From Rosella to the Neanderthals, from Iago to 15, I loved the supporting characters. Matt Haig managed to create a diverse background of individuals, with their distinct personalities and flaws, each of whom had their own parts to play, rather than feeling like random extras.
The world-building is fantastic in some areas – the effects of climate change for one thing are wonderfully done. I could perfectly picture Audrey’s stilt-house, Alex Castle’s home, the Resurrection Zone and the protestors. Whilst those physical elements were clear, I found it difficult to exactly quantify the echoes, and a lot of my complaints are the same as those in Ellie’s review. Are the echoes androids or cyborgs or something else altogether? As Ellie pointed out, the echoes seem almost identical to humans, but the abuse of echoes is pretty much just accepted. I guess I’m just not quite sure why, in a world with such advanced technology, the echoes would have been created. It seems as though advanced androids could have been made to do the same job (or near enough) without causing the protests and moral debates that must have cost echo manufacturers money and generally been a PR disaster. I’m not sure how the first echo designer would have been given ethical approval, and I would have liked to hear more about how and why the echoes were implemented. I expected more of an ethical/moral dilemma based on the blurb, and felt like this could have been explored more, but perhaps the action was focused on more because Echo Boy is YA.
I did enjoy Echo Boy, but I also think it’s a prime example of how hype can do a book a disservice. For me it was a solid three-star read, so it wasn’t a bad book by any means, it’s just that, because I so loved The Humans, I had such high expectations that I can’t help feeling a little disappointed. Sadly, this fell into the same category as Pawn – one of those dystopians with a great premise that just fell slightly flat. Still well worth a read and if a sequel is announced, you can guarantee I’ll be reading it.
Buy it? This is one I’d either buy on a deal or borrow.
In a nutshell: An intriguing premise and great characters, I liked it but found it slightly disappointing.