Double Review: What’s Left of Me and Once We Were

A few months ago, some fellow bloggers and I decided to form an online book club where we would chat quarterly about a book we had chosen to read. Our first book of choice was What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang. While buying the book at a local bookstore, I was informed that Kat is local and was going to be coming there in a couple of weeks to sign books, including her second book Once We Were, which would be available for sale a couple of weeks before it would be available everywhere else! So I came back a couple of weeks later to grab the second book and to have both signed.

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I knew then that I would have to read the books back-to-back and review them both together! My feelings for both, overall, are positive. There are mild spoilers below for both books.

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The concept for the series is interesting: everyone is born a hybrid, with two souls in one body. However, one soul is supposed to “settle” over time, essentially just disappear and allow the dominant soul take control. However, as we discussed in our group chat, we were filled with many questions: How is everyone born with two souls? How does one just fade away? How awkward is it to hear someone else’s thoughts alongside your own?

Eva is the POV character in both books, and she is the more silent soul trapped inside a body shared with Addie, the dominant soul. Though Addie is more dominant, Eva has never completely faded away, always present in Addie’s mind. The only true problem this seems to present is the secrecy of it, though it is hard for Eva to cope with the inability to move their body herself, or to experience things for herself, like a kiss or even practicing a hobby she enjoys. She feels completely alone until a girl from school, Hally, reveals that she too is a hybrid and offers to help Eva be able to take control of hers and Addie’s body. Unfortunately, Hally/Lissa, Addie/Eva, and H/L’s brother Devon/Ryan are all found out and taken away to a facility. By the end of book one they manage to escape the facility, and book two is about the characters trying to hide their identities, meeting with other hybrids, and partaking in some revolution efforts.

What I liked about both books:

I liked Eva’s arc. At the beginning of Once We Were, I wasn’t even sure if I would like her. I was still slightly weirded out by the concept that Eva was alone and detached in someone else’s body, watching everything from a distance. Honestly, she felt so detached I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to connect with her, but thankfully somewhere before page 100, I finally started to feel that connection and she started to feel more real.

I also really like Ryan, the slightly less dominant soul of Hally’s brother Devon. He and Eva have a bond that is clear early on, and they grow closer together throughout the first book. By the second book they are more or less together, as much as you can be in such a situation as they are, but I am not sure if their relationship really flourished. But once again, of course it is difficult under the circumstances. Just the same, I liked how sweet he was, and I would consider him my favorite character.

I also enjoyed both the writing style and the story itself (more so for the first book than the second though).

What I did not like as much:

The world-building is vague. When does the book take place? All through the first book I was wondering, this is in America, right? (The second book confirms this.) Why does it seem pretty contemporary in every way except in that not everyone has a computer? And to further complicate all my questions, we hear references to wars that sound like they are wars we really fought, The American Revolution and the World Wars, but the names are slightly differently and the propaganda from the government makes it seem like it all had to do with hybrids. I could buy that if I understood why. But in the second book there is still no explanation. The second book does talk a little bit more about the world, but it still left me quite confused. I suppose I should take it as some sort of alternate version of our world, a sort of “what if everyone was born with two souls?” question that is plopped into what we know, but it’s hard for me to know for sure. I like to know exactly where I am in place and time.

Also, the level of action in these two books, while admirable because I enjoy good action, almost goes overboard. Addie/Eva is a normal girl but she’s jumping out of windows, coming toe-to-toe with baddies, dealing with bomb-related activities… I’ve seen Red Dawn, and I understand drastic times call for drastic measures, but the shift from normal to doing all these things felt a little unrealistic. I mostly accepted it because I want to believe I could play the hero too, but I would have like to have seen a more natural progression from who she was to revolutionary.

Final Thoughts

Again, overall I really enjoyed both books. The story stays interesting, the relationship between Eva and Ryan gave me feels, especially in the first book, and it’s a unique concept that is pretty well executed. I do feel the second book did struggle some in its pacing, as most second books do, so I hope to see a good, tight wrap-up in the third book as everything meets the end of an arc. The first book is a very solid four stars for me, but the second book is a little lower, more like a 3.75. Still, I don’t reward 3.75’s, so they both get 4 stars from me.

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If you’ve read one or both of the books of The Hybrid Chronicles, what are your thoughts?