This is the second Brenna Yovanoff novel I’ve read that, to my taste, didn’t quite stick the landing. She really knows how to set a scene around an intriguing premise. Here, that idea is that our main character, Mackie, is a replacement, a fae child that was left behind with a human family after their own was taken. In Mackie’s town, this sort of thing happens every seven years, except that most of the time, the replacement doesn’t live — it becomes sick and dies. The people of the town are weirdly accepting of this, because the town seems to enjoy some collective benefits that are conferred due to the sacrifices. Everyone just hopes, individually, that it doesn’t happen to their family.
Appropriately, the tone of the novel is dark, and the prose is sparse and metaphorical. It’s very gothic in effect and that is appealing. But what falls flat for me, moving beyond the atmospheric impact, is that the very barest bones of both the plot and characterization are essentially teen drama stories without much to recommend themselves to me, an adult who is (finally) aging out of the YA demographic. Using a high-concept metaphor should be a new way to put a spin on the trope of a young person who doesn’t quite feel like they fit in, but it seemed like the metaphor was all that this book had. All of the characters lacked detail and depth beyond showing up where they needed to be to advance plot points, and Mackie himself had nothing really going on other than being the replacement and therefore being the axis around which the human and fae characters pivoted. My lack of connection to the characters meant that I wasn’t particularly engaged with the dramatic tension around any danger that any of them were in; nor was I invested in the budding romantic relationship between Mackie and his crush Tate.
In other words, all that The Replacement boiled down to be, for me, was a story about a self-conscious young man wanting to fit in and to impress the girl he likes. It’s not a bad story, but it’s a little boring if not sufficiently jazzed up. I would have thought that the fae/supernatural bits would have been able to do that, but it turns out your characters — and especially your lead character — still need to be more substantial than empty voids upon which you hang supernatural accessories.