A lush, thought-provoking novel in the vein of Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein, Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffen sets out to explore what defines our humanity, and weighs the risks of security versus progress.
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.
So, here’s the deal. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with Frankenstein. I remember such a vast feeling of disappointment the first time I read it, and discovered it was not the horror story pop culture had lead me to believe it was, but rather a social commentary piece disguised as fiction. I find the book itself quite boring, and remember not being impressed when a certain English teacher tried to convince me it was “so impressive” that such a masterpiece had been written be a teenage girl. (Mary Shelley was quite young when she wrote Frankenstein.)
But over the years — and multiple studies of the book in several classes throughout college — I’ve come to appreciate Frankenstein not for the book that it is, but for the inspiration and influence it has provided to other works of fiction (in books, film, and television). Spare and Found Parts is, I think, one of those things.
Though I don’t know for certain if Griffin drew any inspiration from Frankenstein (either directly or indirectly), I find it impossible to discuss Spare and Found Parts without drawing a comparison. (My former English professors are squealing in delight somewhere, I am certain.) It’s hard to discuss at length without giving away too many spoilers — but the Frankenstein story appears in various forms throughout Spare and Found Parts. We see it in Nell’s drive to create an android companion, and her persistence to do so even in the face of the law, the disapproval of her friends, and the logistical challenges of actually accomplishing this feat. We see it again in the work of her father, and her would-be paramour Oliver Kelley. We see it even in Nell herself, with her mechanical heart ever ticking away.
What both Frankenstein and Spare and Found Parts both explore, in some way, is striking a balance between pushing the boundaries of science and technology — discovering just what we, as humans, can really accomplish — and the morals and ethics of what we should accomplish. Just because we can do a thing, doesn’t mean we should. But likewise, just because something scares us, doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. It’s a fine line to balance, no?
All of this (and a Jeff Goldblum GIF) is to say that Spare and Found Parts gave me plenty to think about, and reignited my inner English major, book nerd intellectual in a way other books haven’t in a very long time. It’s not always my favorite feeling; I tend to prefer devouring books for pleasure and entertainment — not necessarily for intense academic analysis — but this is certainly a book I’m eager to discuss. At length, if this review is anything to go by.
I’ll wrap things up by saying that Spare and Found Parts was beautifully written and thoughtfully executed. It was difficult, at first, to get a grasp on the “setting” of the book — it takes place in a future version of our world, after a mysterious “Turn” that saw a forced-but-also-voluntary loss of much of today’s technology, a disease that left many people with some body parts replaced by mechanical versions, and a society broken apart by a lack of global communications. It’s a weird, cool, funky twist on the dystopian — but Griffin definitely plops you right into the middle of this world without much background, and you have to kind of stumble through it a bit before you get a good grasp of how things are in this world.
The end result, though, is a book with a super cool premise, gorgeous writing (I mean, there are just some stunning passages!), and a thought-provoking plot. Look for Spare and Found Parts in stores October 4th.