Earth as we know it has been overrun by an alien race know as souls. These creatures cannot survive without a host body. Since arriving on Earth, they have been taking over human bodies, thinking that they are making our planet a better place. Once they are implanted in their human hosts, the souls have that person's memories and emotions, but they are passive creatures, creating a Utopian society free of violence and conflict. Usually, the consciousness of the soul's human host fades into the background, eventually disappearing all together, but there are a few human souls who refuse to go away.
Melanie Stryder is one such human. After losing her parents to the souls, she struggled to keep herself and her younger brother, Jamie, alive. One night, while out raiding for food, she is found by Jared, another human survivor. Together, they build a life for themselves and Jamie far from the influence of the souls, but when Melanie gets word that her cousin may still be alive as well, she knows she must go in search of the other woman. Before embarking on her quest, Melanie promises that she will return to Jared and Jamie, but along the way, she is captured by the Seekers and implanted with a soul know only as Wanderer.
Wanderer is a very old soul who has traveled the universe and lived on many different planets. She is baffled when Melanie's consciousness continues to exist inside her head long after the implantation. A Seeker has been assigned to Wanderer in hopes that she will be able to access Melanie's memories and lead them to Jared and Jamie, but the more Wanderer sees of Melanie's life before the implantation, the more she cares for and wants to protect Melanie's loved ones. Eventually, Wanderer forges an uneasy alliance with Melanie, as they work together to find Jared and Jamie and evade the Seeker who has become their common enemy. Their goal will take them on a journey deep into the heart of the Arizona desert, but once they reach their objective, they will both be forever changed in ways they never could have imagined as they discover their true destinies.
I've been a fan of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series for quite some time, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading The Host. I think part of it was simply that long books like this are somewhat daunting to a slow reader like me. However, I also think that perhaps subconsciously I wasn't sure I would like it as well and didn't want to ruin my relationship with this author I've come to love so much. Well, I'm happy to say that nothing could have been further from the truth. The Host still embodies Stephenie Meyer's trademark writing style, but it is a very different kind of story. I love books that make me think about what ifs, and this one definitely did that in a profound way.
The concept of two consciousnesses inhabiting the same body and fighting for control of it was an unusual and intriguing one. I'm still not sure how she did it, but Ms. Meyer managed to give Wanderer and Melanie very different personalities that were both appealing in their own way despite them sharing one body. Melanie is a tough survivor who managed to keep herself and her brother, Jamie, from being taken by the souls, even though she was only a teenager when Earth was invaded and their parents "died." When she met Jared, he helped to shoulder some of the burden for their survival, and after spending a short time together, they fell deeply in love. When Melanie was finally caught by the Seekers, she loved Jared and Jamie so much, she would do anything to keep her promise to return to them alive, including battling with Wanderer in her own head. She plagues Wanderer with her thoughts long after the implantation when most other human souls would have succumbed and faded into the background, if not disappeared completely. Wanderer has traveled the universe and lived on many other planets. She is an eternal being who is now in her ninth life cycle. Like most souls, Wanderer is kind and gentle to a fault. She can't stand to see anyone, even her enemy, hurt in any way, especially when she thinks it has something to do with her. The longer Wanderer spends inside Melanie's body, and the more Melanie lets her see of her life before being caught, the more intrigued and sympathetic Wanderer becomes toward Melanie and all humans in general. Having access to Melanie's memories and emotions, Wanderer comes to love Jared and Jamie every bit as much as Melanie does, so they forge an uneasy truce in order to find the two men that Melanie had to leave behind. That truce gradually grows into a mutual respect and eventually a sisterly bond. As they integrate more fully and work toward their common goal, their thought processes start veering away from "I" and "my" to become "we" and "our." Watching the psychological evolution of these two beings was fascinating.
The secondary characters were wonderful too. I loved almost everything about Uncle Jeb. He's an old conspiracy theorist who also has a curious mind and is definitely the voice of reason when it comes to nearly everything, especially Melanie/Wanderer. Not to mention his "home" is just too cool for words. I also thoroughly enjoyed his no nonsense manner, "My house, my rules." I adored Jamie's boyish curiosity. He is quick to see the good in Wanderer and is the first to believe that Melanie is still alive in there too. Jared is a tougher nut to crack. The story is told in first person perspective, mostly from Wanderer's viewpoint. Sometimes I wished we had Jared's POV, but it was obvious that he was going through a mighty struggle. He hates Wanderer for taking over Melanie's body, but because she still looks like Melanie, it's hard for him to kill her even though he feels like doing it sometimes. Ian doesn't exactly get off on the right foot, but he turns out to be a total sweetheart who I completely fell in love with. I can't say much more about these men or the other secondary characters in general without giving away some major spoilers. All I'll say is that it was a colorful cast who each had their own personalities and roles to play, and each one went through a personal transformation throughout the story which was a pleasure to watch. I also can't help saying that the way things turned out for Kyle was a delicious irony.
I've seen people say that The Host is more "grown up" than the Twilight series, and therefore, isn't really young adult, but I can see it both ways. Just by virtue of the characters generally being older, it is a more mature story that doesn't embody the teen angst of Twilight or other typical young adult books, but at the same time, the content isn't really any more mature. I think this story is appropriate for most fans of Twilight, both young and old. The language is very minimal, and while there is some violence, it isn't overly descriptive or particularly disturbing. There are a few fairly intense kissing scenes and one passionate embrace that embodied some moderate sexual tension, but there is no actual sex within the narrative and the sexual references are written in a veiled way and pretty mild. There are a few moderately mature themes, such as whether it's OK to take measures to end a human's suffering, but there are also plenty of positive messages about tolerance and doing the right thing. All this considered, as a parent, I would say that the book is appropriate for a mature teenage audience of approximately 14-15 and up.
While The Host is unequivocally post-apocalyptic science fiction, anyone who prefers hard science and/or action and adventure in their science fiction may be disappointed in the story. The science aspect that's present seemed reasonably sound to me and it does have a few adventurous scenes, but this is more of a psychological and sociological drama. Since these are areas of infinite fascination to me, I couldn't help but love this story. It's about relationships, not just of the romantic variety, but also friendships and what it means to be a family. It's about making hard decisions, and about doing the right thing even when others may not agree with you. It's about fear of that which we don't understand and learning tolerance for others. But most of all, The Host is a story about what it truly means to be human. It is a story that touched me in a very deep way. It did start off a tad slow, but I realized that the languid pace was necessary for building trust between the characters, and once it reached the halfway point, it really took off and thoroughly engaged my attention. All in all, a fabulous book that didn't seem nearly as long as it was. I wish there was some inkling of when Stephenie Meyer is going to release the sequels, because I'm dying to read more. I highly recommend The Host to anyone who enjoys watching fictional characters go on an emotionally-charged journey of self-discovery as they explore new concepts and learn to love and respect others for who they are.
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