Spare and Found Parts – Sarah Maria Griffin – Greenwillow Books – Published 4 October 2016
Nell Crane has always been an outsider. In a city devastated by an epidemic, where survivors are all missing parts—an arm, a leg, an eye—her father is the famed scientist who created the biomechanical limbs everyone now uses. But Nell is the only one whose mechanical piece is on the inside: her heart. Since the childhood operation, she has ticked. Like a clock, like a bomb. As her community rebuilds, everyone is expected to contribute to the society’s good . . . but how can Nell live up to her father’s revolutionary idea when she has none of her own?
Then she finds a mannequin hand while salvaging on the beach—the first boy’s hand she’s ever held—and inspiration strikes. Can Nell build her own companion in a world that fears advanced technology? The deeper she sinks into this plan, the more she learns about her city—and her father, who is hiding secret experiments of his own.
Spare and Found Parts is a steampunk-like sci-fi, set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world. It is a strange story, hopeful, intriguing and yet slightly off-putting, inspired by Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Nell lives in a world where computers are a word whispered in fear. Computers caused the sickness that spread through the city, killing many and leaving others missing arms, legs or ears. The city is slowly rebuilding and now tech is used only as body parts in place of those that were lost in the sickness. The idea of tech that can think for itself is terrifying. But not for Nell. She longs to construct a machine that can be brought to life, longs to uncover the meaning behind code and understand what computers could do for her city.
This novel is dense, information heavy. The first few chapters are focused on outlining Nell’s life. Despite this though, it took me a large section of the book before I had any solid idea of the concept and history of the setting, and, after finishing, I’m still not clear about all the details. Yet, as I slowly saw further into Nell’s character I became curious about her world and her motives. She is lonely, different from the people around her. She has metal on the inside, while others have only metal arms or fingers or legs. Nell’s mother is dead, her father is constantly working, her grandmother is pushing her to fulfil the great legacy of her parents in her upcoming Contribution and her best friend seems to be moving on without her. Nell’s one big idea is to build a man out of parts and forbidden technology. She hopes it will be enough to count as her Contribution, while bringing her the companionship for which she longs.
This was not an easy story in which to lose myself, and the writing style is complex and intricate. Most of the chapters are in third person, detailing Nell’s story, while a few are in a strange sort of second person, addressing Nell as “you”. In the second half of the book, there are also a few chapters from the perspective of Nell’s created being.
I didn’t love this book, never fully became immersed in the story or understood it. However, I can appreciate the cleverness of the story’s structure and idea. I liked Nell and enjoyed her journey. This book truly has an other-worldliness to it and yet little things are familiar – computers and tech we take for granted in out world – that have become foreign in Nell’s world. I found the plot slow and yet the end very quickly resolved. I wanted more details about where Nell lived and the mysterious sickness rather than it remaining vague. This is not a romance, yet romance or at least marriage and companionship seem to be a topic often spoken or thought about.
Spare and Found Parts is a story of hope, challenging ideas, family, expectations, standing up for one’s self and the human relationship with technology and artificial intelligence.
The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Genre: Science Fiction.
Themes: Computers, code, family, future, artificial intelligence, friendship, inventors, Frankenstein.
Reading age guide: Ages 13 and up.
Published: 4 October 2016 by Greenwillow Books.
Format: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook. 416 pages.