Review: The Replacement, Brenna Yovanoff

Happy All Saints’ Day! More to the point, happy anniversary, Saints! I will always love you no matter what. I am writing this post in mid-October, but I am predicting that I ended up doing nothing for Halloween. I am not a big fan of Halloween ever since I stopped trick-or-treating. I’m not good at designing costumes. Now Halloween is just one more obstacle between me and Christmas.

Ah changelings. I was griping the other day about the difficulty of creating a fairy world that has enough specificity to satisfy me, and although The Replacement doesn’t completely nail this, it does a pretty good job. More on that in a bit.

Mackie Doyle is a changeling. He is one of a very few children in the town of Gentry who survived to this age — usually when a faerie child (but they don’t call it that) is left in place of a human one, it dies very young. The people of Gentry do not talk much about this, but it defines Mackie’s life. He can’t be near iron, or even blood, without becoming sick; he can’t walk on consecrated ground, though his father is pastor of the town’s church. All his time is spent trying to blend in, a strategy that goes awry when his classmate Tate — herself a relentless truth-teller — loses her baby sister to the faeries (again, they don’t call it that) and demands that Mackie find a way to help her get her sister back.

What I loved about this book was how hard Mackie tries to fit in. This isn’t your usual high school kid feels out of place story. To Mackie it is literally life and death — he knows that the people of Gentry, for all their struggles to ignore what’s right in front of them, will turn on him in a second if he draws attention to how different he is from them. His aversion to blood and sacred ground must be disguised at all costs, as his parents are constantly reminding him. He is so focused on keeping cover that he barely has time for regular human friendships. Only with his oldest friend, Roswell, and his loving sister, Emma, can he begin to be himself. I would have read an entire book just about Mackie trying to navigate this difficult, hostile world without attracting notice to his differentness.

The supernatural plotline wasn’t bad, though. When Mackie eventually encounters the realm that produced him, he finds it strange and unsettling and alien, nothing he recognizes and nothing that feels familiar. I liked how concrete Brenna Yovanoff made this realm. When Mackie first meets the Morrigan — the more benevolent of the two women who rule various parts of the faerie realm (again! not what they call it in the book!) — she is wearing a gauzy party dress and has a mouthful of “small, jagged teeth. Not a nice, respectable thirty-two, but closer to fifty or sixty.” That is a nice little detail, and there are more like this, just small specific things that make the creatures seem unknowable but tangible.

The humans in the book, which is mostly everyone in the first third apart from Mackie, are very strong characters. Mackie’s sister Emma, the one person in the world he absolutely trusts and loves, comes off very sistery. Her concern for Mackie is strong and real and not overblown; it’s the kind of concern a healthy sibling has for a sickly sibling. I got a bit teary toward the end over this. I am a well-known sucker for sibling affection. And generally I liked it that the peripheral characters had lives of their own. Mackie’s father is devoted to his job; his mother has a sad backstory; Emma works on school projects and has friends of her own. Especially good were Mackie’s friends Danny and Drew, twins with a penchant for fixing up old broken things. They ended up being kind of important to the plot in the end, in a way that felt organic even though they hadn’t been a major part of the book up until that point.

The story of a changeling’s life after being switched for a human baby is something I’ve only seen once before — Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s The Moorchild, the details of which I remember only pretty hazily — and it makes for a fascinating and unusual plot. I’d definitely recommend The Replacement. Thanks to the lovely Jodie for the recommendation!

I have an insatiable appetite for changeling/fairy realm stories this fall. Why aren’t there more? Less rhetorically, what do y’all think makes for a really good secondary character? It can’t just be their having lives of their own. What are the traits that make secondary characters pop?