The Story: [From GoodReads]:
Mila 2.0 is the first book in an electrifying sci-fi thriller series about a teenage girl who discovers that she is an experiment in artificial intelligence. Mila was never meant to learn the truth about her identity. She was a girl living with her mother in a small Minnesota town. She was supposed to forget her past—that she was built in a secret computer science lab and programmed to do things real people would never do. Now she has no choice but to run—from the dangerous operatives who want her terminated because she knows too much and from a mysterious group that wants to capture her alive and unlock her advanced technology. However, what Mila’s becoming is beyond anyone’s imagination, including her own, and it just might save her life.
My Take: Is it possible for a book with such a cool cover, title, and blurb to somehow be less than stellar? Sadly, it is. That’s not to say this is a terrible book as it does have some passable action scenes (chiefly confined to the latter chapters) and a mildly likable lead protagonist. But aside from those, there really wasn’t much else for me to sink my reading teeth into.
For starters, I love stories about non-human human-like characters. When I think of these types of characters, I think of robots, androids, cyborgs, and holograms. Thus, I immediately call to mind some pretty awesome and epic characters, such as:
So with all of that, I was expecting Mila to step comfortably among these characters’ ranks, struggling with deep questions about human nature or trying to figure out how to integrate herself among humans. Perhaps this might even evolve into some sort of Bourne Identity-style plot where the lead character seeks to uncover who she really is despite overwhelming obstacles and powers-that-be determined to keep her in the dark. However, rather than offer up compelling dramatic tension or any fun character dynamics related to these inherent struggles, Mila is just…blah.
So rather than fall among the likes of the truly awesome characters listed above, Mila is more like this…
…almost as bland as dry toast (I say “almost” because she’s not 100% bland [just 98%], so she’s more like toast with a tiny sprinkling of cinnamon on it).
For a character who is automatically set apart because she’s not entirely human, Mila behaved surprisingly human, which generated a sense of disconnect with me. I get that Mila is designed/programed to act as human-like as possible, including having the ability to grieve, dealing with high school dramatics, and enjoying some downtime with a short-lived love interest. But all of this is executed without any hint as to her true identity aside from flashbacks of being in a white room around men in white coats and smelling some antiseptic. Other than that, I couldn’t tell that Mila behaved any differently than the rest of her immature friends. Thus, when Mila suffers an injury that causes her to discover what she’s really made of (literally), the reveal feels a bit anticlimactic. After that, she and her mother go on the run from the clandestine agency that created Mila and wants her back in its clutches.
Again, all of this sounds like it has the markings of a sci-fi Bourne Identity-type tale. Sadly, MILA 2.0 suffers from the typical YA tropes and is weighed down by too much dialogue and not enough action. I suppose if you enjoy a slow burn thriller with some sci-fi elements to it, perhaps this might be for you. But be aware that I place a great deal of emphasis on the word slow.
Likewise, for a novel about a non-human character living in a human world, there really isn’t much here regarding the definition of human. Similar stories, from Asimov’s Robot stories to Star Trek, tend to raise the same questions but address them in different ways: what does being human mean, can a machine be “human,” is a machine a person, can a machine “feel” emotions, and so on. These are all great questions and typically make for good, philosophical discussion among characters (such as this classic scene from the ST:TNG episode, “The Measure of a Man,” where Captain Picard argues that Data is a “sentient being” despite being an android). I kept expecting MILA 2.0 to delve into something akin to that, raising questions about the nature of humanity and offering some interesting answers or possibilities.
Instead, the first 40% of this novel is typical YA fluff and fodder: teenage banter, high school scenes, and random drama. I almost stopped reading after the first four chapters or so because all they consisted of was teenage girls chatting, flirting, and too many “oh my gosh-he’s cute!”/”you-stole-by-boyfriend!” moments. But I was willing to give the book the benefit of the doubt early on as at least its chapters are short (on the Kindle version) and, thus, slow to delve into the meat of the story. Yet even when Mila does find out about her past, it’s not a spectacular, earth-shattering moment. It’s just a brief infodump scene where her mother hands her an iPod and says that everything Mila needs to know is recorded on it. It’s a very lackluster reveal, to say the least.
The rest of the characters are also dull as no one stands out as memorable in any way. Granted, I didn’t find myself frustrated by any of the characters as none of them act idiotic, but they all lack anything extra in terms of personality or interesting quirks to make them truly stand out. Even Mila, who, by all rights, should be the most memorable character, is not noteworthy. Instead, she acts like the typical YA fictional teen girl save for the fact she sometimes briefly ponders how she’s able to feel seeing as she isn’t human. But that’s as deep as it goes.
All of that being said, this novel does pick up a little bit by the end and Mila does take the revelation of what she was created for rather seriously instead of brushing it aside. Likewise, she’s not a dumb character and she does have moments where she struggles to grasp which world she belongs in as the human world is all she’s ever known. These aspects of the novel saved it from being a total dud for me; so while it’s definitely not a white knuckle thriller, it does offer up some mildly interesting details about Mila’s past. Yet there wasn’t much here to fully cement my interest. I confess I started speed-reading through the book’s mid-section, stopping only to see if the story had picked up its pace and finally introduced any compelling elements. Yet no such luck, not even by the end.
Content: Overall, this is a clean YA read but, writing and story-wise, seems more geared for teens than anyone younger or older.
Language – There are a few PG-level profanities but nothing pervasive.
Violence – There are some moments of violent action, especially as Mila confronts her creators, but nothing pushes the boundaries of good taste nor does it become graphic or gory.
Sexual Content – None. There are a few moments of casual flirting between Mila and a boy who just barely becomes her boyfriend as well as said boy and a few of Mila’s friends, but nothing ever becomes sexual or even sensual.
Overall, MILA 2.0 should have been an easy favorite for me, at least judging from its blurb, but it fell desperately short. Teen readers looking for a clean read that’s also a light robot/android-themed sci-fi story might find more to like here. However, if you want thrilling action and deep introspection to go along with your non-human characters, then be prepared to look elsewhere as this novel really is no different than your standard YA fare with only a few futuristic leanings to give it a sci-fi edge. But it’s the minimum nuts and bolts, at best. To be honest, if you’re searching for a YA sci-fi novel that actually delves into some of the common “what is human” questions, then check out Cinder by Marissa Meyer, as well as the rest of the Lunar Chronicles series. MILA 2.0 strikes me as maybe that’s what it wanted to be in terms of theme but it unfortunately misses the mark.