Half Life

Half Life

by Lillian Clark
Half Life

Half Life

by Lillian Clark


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An overachiever enrolls in an experimental clone study to prove that two (of her own) heads are better than one in this fast-paced, near-future adventure that's Black Mirror meets Becky Albertalli.

There aren't enough hours in the day for Lucille—perfectionist, overachiever—to do everything she has to do, and there certainly aren't enough hours to hang out with friends, fall in love, get in trouble—all the teenage things she knows she should want to be doing instead of preparing for a flawless future. So when she sees an ad for Life2: Do more. Be more, she's intrigued.

The company is looking for beta testers to enroll in an experimental clone program, and in the aftermath of a series of disappointments, Lucille is feeling reckless enough to jump in. At first, it's perfect: her clone, Lucy, is exactly what she needed to make her life manageable and have time for a social life. But it doesn't take long for Lucy to become more Lucy and less Lucille, and Lucille is forced to stop looking at Lucy as a reflection and start seeing her as a window—a glimpse at someone else living her own life, but better. Lucy does what she really wants to, not what she thinks she should want to, and Lucille is left wondering how much she was even a part of the perfect life she'd constructed for herself. Lucille wanted Lucy to help her relationships with everyone else, but how can she do that without first rectifying her relationship with herself?

"Like a PG-13 mash-up of Booksmart and Black Mirror, Clark’s sophomore novel delivers both twisty sci-fi suspense and a highly relatable account of the search for self-determination and self-worth."—Booklist

"Clark makes this territory fresh, and teens questioning their own self-worth will be drawn to this novel. A novel that is near-future enough to appeal to sci-fi fans as well as general audiences who like to ask, 'What if?'"—SLJ

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525580508
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 06/09/2020
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Lexile: HL640L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Lillian Clark is also the author of Immoral Code. A graduate of the University of Wyoming, she grew up riding horses, climbing trees, hiking, and going on grand imaginary adventures in the small-town West. She's worked as a lifeguard, a camp counselor, and a Zamboni driver, but found her eternal love working as a bookseller at an independent bookstore in what was once a brothel in historic downtown Laramie, Wyoming. Now living with her husband, son, and two giant dogs in the Teton Valley of Idaho, she spends her snowy winters and sunny summers reading almost anything and writing books for teens. Learn more about Lillian online at LillianJClark.com and on Twitter at @LillianJClark.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Truth is a funny thing.
It’s fluid, relative. A self-­fulfilling prophecy. What you want, what you need, what you believe, what people believed before you: welcome to your truths.
Truths like, say, the sky is blue. Easy, right? The sky is blue.
Except, it isn’t. The sky appears blue because of the way specifically coded cells in our eyes collect data that is then interpreted by the specifically coded cells in our brains which are programmed from birth to “know” that when we’re speaking English, that specific hue of scattered light is “blue.”
Outside of your brain, the sky isn’t blue. The sky is a mess of molecules and light waves that are only “blue” when seen by a creature with the correct ocular structure and conscious context needed to interpret the sky as “blue.” So what the hell color is the sky, anyway?
Think about it. “Truth” is subjective. It’s perception. Repetition.
Tell yourself a lie enough times and poof! it becomes your truth.
Like me. My brand. Who I Am™. Case in point:
“Lucille Harper, always the overachiever,” my social studies teacher says, dropping my graded final paper facedown on my desk, grin tinged with resentment. Well, maybe it’s resentment. Maybe it’s end-­of-­the-­school-­year ennui. Or heartburn.
I flip my paper over—knot in my chest going tight—read the “95” he’s written atop it in his trademark green pen, and flip it back like I don’t care. Except, I do. Care. About this specific paper? No, though the grade makes my knot loosen. About jumping through this hoop, the couple thousand that came before it, and however many will come next? Yes. Hoops, hurdles, a yawning expanse of boxes to tick. I care about them all because they’re what sits between me and my goals, me and college, me and proof that all of this “overachieving” is worth it.
Take my classmates. Really, conduct a poll:
What do you think of Lucille Harper? Is she:
(A)    Super awesome. Everyone loves her, wants to date her or be her or somehow both.
(B)    An uptight, overachieving kiss-­ass.
(C)    Who?
My bet would be on a sixty-­forty split between B and C.
To them, to everyone, I’m either No One or who Mr. Fitch says I am: Lucille Harper, Overachiever.
And I own it, even if I hate that term. Overachiever. How exactly does one “over” achieve? Is there some line I’m not supposed to cross? Like, whoa, hold on there, little lady, you’re awfully close to appearing ambitious. You’re one quick skip shy of trying too hard. And we all know what a horror show trying hard is, right?
“Lucille,” they say, “stop trying so fucking hard.”
I open my messenger bag, pull out my binder, and tuck my paper neatly into the front pocket. Why? I don’t know. Class is over, the year’s over. It’s literally Friday of the second-­to-­last week, with only one useless week left to waste time, turn in final assignments and books, and clean out lockers that are already clean since no one uses them anyway. There is a zero percent chance I’ll need this thing again. But I slide it in there anyway—all neat and crisp—then put my binder back in my bag and turn to talk to Cass.
She’s twisted around in her seat talking to Aran. Because of course she is. How do I keep forgetting he’s in this class? Legit all semester. I’d say it’s because he never talks and does little more than slouch back in whichever of his revolving skate-­brand hoodies he’s wearing that day, but really it’s willful ignorance. I choose to forget he’s in this class like how I choose to forget he’s Cass’s boyfriend.
They look through his paper together, probably because he’s worried about his grade. Cass’s sits on her desk, a “94” written in the top left-­hand corner. How Mr. Fitch decides percentages on analytical research papers is beyond me. I get one tiny extra point, yet my paper’s twice as long.
Cass doesn’t look like she’s turning back around anytime soon, so I pull out my phone to wait out the last five minutes like the rest of the class. I tap in my passcode, and feel the knot cinch tight.
There’s a text from Dad saying he’s already waiting out front and four new emails: one from some company called Life2 that keeps dodging my spam filters, an updated syllabus and ­e-­classroom group assignments for my summer college business course, a “hello” from my SAT prep tutor, and an update from Reach the Sky, the day camp for low-­income and at-­risk kids where I’m volunteering later this summer.
I trash the first, move the next two to their folders to deal with later, then open the one from Reach the Sky. Is this masochism? Knowing it’ll hurt me but doing it anyway because I kind of want the hurt. Or, I don’t want it. I earned it. Because of course the message is for the first-­session interns. Which is really all of the interns except for me. I only got selected for the second session. Off the wait list.
The message is bland—prep suggestions and reminders about meeting times and final requests for paperwork—but it feels like a hand reaching out to tug at the tangled mess in my chest. I flip over to my Instagram app and pull up Bode’s page.
Call me pathetic, because obviously there’re no new posts since I last checked at lunch, but I don’t care. I do care. Like, really. Please don’t call me pathetic. I browse his website next, scrolling through his store of hand-­screen-­printed products, knowing I’ll never buy any because he’d see it was me from the order form and who cares that half the school wears his stuff, I know he’d read my name and sense my near-­debilitating crush through the screen and wouldn’t that just be the worst?
I mean, it’s one thing to pine in private. Private means he only says no inside my head. Private means the unflappable Lucille Harper brand remains unflapped.
Still, I see the warning “only three left in stock” under my favorite one—a purple ombré octopus printed on a white ­V-­neck tee—and hesitate, my finger above the buy button.
The bell rings. I close the page and sling my bag’s strap over my shoulder as my classmates shift and stand around me. Mr. Fitch raises a hand in farewell as we file out. “Have a good weekend,” he calls over the din of footsteps and chatter. “Make good choices!”
In the hall, Cass catches up with me and loops her arm through mine. “So, how’d you do? No, wait. Let me guess.” She pretends to consider. I grin and think, Is this condescending? Am I this predictable? “Ninety-­seven.”
“Close. Ninety-­five.”
“Kick-­ass.” She holds up her free hand for a high five. I oblige.
“You?” I ask, though I already know.
She skips a step, not like missing one but bouncing, and nudges me with her shoulder. “Want to know what Aran got?”
No. “Sure.” It’s awful, and I’d never tell her this, but sometimes Cass exhausts me. I love her. Like a sister. LYLAS: Love Ya Like a Sister. That’s how we used to sign all our notes/texts/et cetera. It’s the best-­friends-­before-­birth thing, thanks to our platonic-­soul-­mates-­since-­college moms. In a lot of ways, it’s awesome. In others—like the she’s-­prettier/funnier/more confident/popular/wanted-­than-­me way—it’s not.
Cass looks back at Aran, who’s currently walking a pace behind us in some asymmetrical third-­wheel configuration, and beams. “Ninety-­eight,” she says, and turns back to me. “Ninety-­freaking-­eight! He did his whole paper in verse.”
I try to stop it. Like holding in a sneeze. But my brow rises and eyes widen and my traitor open-­book face gives me away.
“Wow, Luce,” Cass says, “someone crop-­dusting ahead of us or are you really that petty?”
“Sorry. I just—” A ninety-­eight! God, I— And what was with Cass guessing I got a ninety-­seven? “I just worked really hard.”
She stops, making me stop with her by yanking our linked arms. “And Aran didn’t?”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Yeah? Tell that to your face.”
“Sorry for my face, then.”
She rolls her eyes and starts again toward the west lobby, where the sophomores congregate. Aran follows, the same pace behind. I’d guess he looks uncomfortable, but I don’t check. Cass unloops our arms and falls back a step to walk the rest of the way beside him.
Sometimes I’m pretty sure she hates me. The other side of the LYLAS thing. Like how sometimes you act the worst to the people who are closest to you. You know it’s awful, but you do it anyway. Maybe because you trust them to keep loving you. At least, that’s what I tell myself. Because the other answer is that when you’re not actually sisters, LYLAS is little more than silly shorthand for a feeling you’re doomed to outgrow.
Or it’s Aran. Texting Cass while we’re hanging out. Laughing with her and their theater friends about jokes I haven’t been in on since September. Getting a better grade than me on a paper I spent two weeks writing for a class I don’t even like.
I round the corner into the sophomore lobby and hesitate, stopping so quick the kid behind me rams into my back. Because three people wait for Cass and Aran at their usual bench. Louise and Finn, two of Cass’s theater friends, and Bode.
Bode’s not a theater friend, more theater-­friend-­adjacent. Or, rather, everyone-­adjacent. Because Bode, with his achingly cool screen-­printing designs and generally palatable self, is universally adored among the sophomores and beyond. A universality that includes yours truly, as I’ve had an unrequited crush on him since the seventh grade.
If I’d managed to slow down in the hall, let Cass and Aran pass me, it’d have been easy. I’d have followed them over, like, hi, yes, look at me coming over because I Belong. Because we are all Friends here.
Instead, there’s the aforementioned freeze. Total deer-­in-­the-­headlights. Which is pathetic. I know this. Even more pathetic? Rather than resuming my progress after being rammed into, I look at my phone—though I have exactly nothing new to look at—until I see Cass and Aran walk over to the bench out of the corner of my eye.
They join the group and ease into the conversation like water mixing with, well, water. Seamless. While I wander over and stick to the outskirts. The five of them all laugh about something, then Cass turns to me. “Your dad still picking you up?”
“Yeah, he’s already outside. You’re not coming?”
“Nah.” She nods back at Aran and the other three. “We’re going to find something to do.”
“Do you want—”
“Can’t.” I swallow. Why is my mouth so bitter? Oh, right, because “bitter” is the taste of pity-­invites. “My parents have some sort of announcement, remember?”
“Oh, yeah.” And I can tell she’s relieved. She didn’t want me to say yes. Since her new—if an entire school year still qualifies as “new”—friends don’t like me. “Talk later?” she asks.
I nod. She nods. There are smiles and waves. And the five of them head out the doors while I stand there. I need to go that way too, but I’d rather fake that I forgot something for a minute than trot awkwardly along in their wake.
The weight of my bag tugs at the fabric on my shoulder. I resituate the strap, fix my Peter Pan collar and the lay of my dress, then start toward the door. I hope Bode liked it. My dress. Black with short sleeves and a shadowy geometric print. I try to re­member if his eyes lingered. If he’d looked at me at all. He had, hadn’t he?
I like to think our styles are complementary. Him with his thick-­rimmed glasses of various colors and assortment of artistic tees. I’m not artistic, but I am composed, so Bode and I make aesthetic sense. Like mixing patterns you think would clash but enhance each other instead. Pinstripe and paisley. Micro polka dots and toile. Chevron and filigree.
My dad’s parked in the pull-­through, against the rules, with the engine off and the radio on. When I climb in, he pushes the ignition button and turns down NPR. “Greetings, Kid,” he says.
“Salutations, Parent.”
“No Cass?”
I shake my head and wait for him to do his thing: tipped head, pointed gaze, awaiting elaboration. But he doesn’t, only shifts into gear, checks his blind spot, and pulls away from the curb.
We’re silent through the lurching stop-­go procession of cars leaving the lot. I reach over and turn the radio back up. A woman reads an update about the latest political indictment, and Dad uses the steering-­wheel buttons to switch the station from NPR to classic rock. I try doing the tilted-­head-­staring thing to him, but he doesn’t notice. He’s too busy looking like he’s sleepwalking. The car ahead of us at the stop sign turns onto the street and he doesn’t even pull up.
“What? Oh. Right,” he says, then rolls forward and flips on the turn signal, waits for a break in traffic, and accelerates out onto the road.
I spot them halfway down the block. Cass is on Aran’s skateboard, arms out, balancing as he pushes her down the sidewalk with a hand on the small of her back. Louise and Finn follow behind, huddled together, watching something on one of their phones, each with an earbud in one ear, oblivious.
Bode’s up ahead on his own board. Cruising lazily toward the corner and currently red light. We pull up even with him as he stops and toes the back of his board to pop the front up into his hand. My insides clench. Turn green, turn green, turn green.
I slouch down.
Hold my breath.
Open my bag on my lap and pretend to search through it.
Glance at the side mirror though all I can see is my own filtered reflection.
Wait for a knuckle to tap the glass.
The light turns, and we roll forward. I exhale, looking back as we accelerate through the intersection to see the five of them bunched up on the corner, unaware that the light’s even changed. With no clue that I’d been there at all.
I drop my bag back onto the floor and stare out the window. An ad for American Furniture Warehouse plays on the radio. Then one for Elitch’s. Then my mom calls, my dad’s phone ringing through the car’s Bluetooth, interrupting the first few bars of a Pearl Jam song.
I tap the answer button on the touch screen. “Hi, Mom.”
“Hey, Luce.” Her voice is weird. Not just car-­speaker weird, but taut. And I think, Maybe it’s in the water. A parasite. Alien microbes using my parents as hosts. “You almost home?”
I glance at Dad, and he looks the same as before. Like, should I slap him? Not hard. Just a snap-­out-­of-­it tap. “Yeah,” I say, “almost there.”
“Great,” she says, and hangs up.
We ease to a stop at the last light before home, and I ask, “Did someone die?”
Nothing. Like he’s not even in the car with me. I’d been joking—halfway—but now my stomach shrinks and my pulse rises. “Dad.”
He gives his head a slight shake. “What?”
“Mom. You. This conference in the middle of the afternoon on a work day. Did someone die?”
He shakes his head again. “No.”
We turn onto our block and pass a series of densely landscaped, oversized houses. The Gilberts’ Maltipoo sprints across their front yard to bark at our car through their wrought iron fence, a frenzied sentient cotton ball. “Then, what?”
“Your mom and I will tell you inside.”
“Awesome. Not at all ominous.”
He doesn’t say anything. Not as we pull into the garage stall next to my mom’s car—leaving the door open, I note—or as he climbs out, forgetting his work bag in the backseat. Nothing as I follow him into the house. Nothing as Boris, our five-­year-­old Great Pyrenees does his groaning delighted dance in the kitchen, shoving his massive body first against Dad’s legs, then mine. Nothing as Mom comes into the kitchen, as they pass each other without a glance.
No, worse than “without a glance.” They pass each other like two negatively charged magnets, with a repulsed barrier between.
“Hey, Lucy Moosie,” she says, leaning over Boris to give me a hug.
“Mom. Please.”
“Right.” She straightens and picks dog hair off her navy skirt. “Sorry. Lucille.”
Navy skirt and crisp-­not-­crumpled blouse means she probably wasn’t on call, but I ask, “Usher forth any new life today?”
“Not today.” She crosses the kitchen in her nylons, taking a mug from one cabinet and our basket of assorted teas from another. She sets those on the island and grabs the kettle off the stove. “Ava offered to take most of my patient load today so I could make it home in time.”
Does that mean Ava, Cass’s mom, knows what this is about? Does Cass? I watch my mom fill the kettle in the sink, set it on a burner, turn said burner on, then shake her head and turn it off again.
But, not death. So, are we moving? Is Mom pregnant with some midlife-­crisis baby? Is someone sick? Does one of them have cancer?
“Come on,” she says, walking toward the living room. “Your dad and I need to talk to you about something.”
The knot in my chest is pulled so taut, it’s vibrating.
Dad’s already waiting in one of the accent chairs arranged to face the couch, elbows propped on his knees, tie dangling in the space between. Mom moves to sit in the second accent chair beside him. They wait. I stand behind the couch, arms crossed, holding myself together. Boris plods into the room and lies on the rug with a full-­chested sigh. Likewise, Bubbo. Likewise.
“Luce,” Dad says, not looking at me. “Please.”
I sit.
“So,” Mom starts, then swallows whatever she planned to say next. Her eyes are wet.
She and Dad share a look, and he says, “We’ve decided—”
“Right. We’ve decided, together, that it’d be best for us to separate.”
I blink. “What?”
“Well, not best,” says Mom. “That’s not—”
“Okay. Poor word choice, but—”
“Wait. Separate or divorce?” I ask.
“Divorce,” they say at the same time.
Dad shakes his head.
Mom rolls her eyes.
And I feel the bottom of my world fall out.
“Lucy.” My mom’s watching me. “Say something? Please?”
“I—” They were perfect. College sweethearts, married after graduation, each other’s cheering squads through MBAs and MDs and working at the same hospital, perfect. Jobs, house, kid, perfect. “I thought you were happy.”
Mom flashes a look at Dad, but he’s staring at his hands, linked in his lap. “We were. For a long time. Then it . . . faded. Until we were just going through the motions. And once you realize you’ve been pretending at something like that, like happiness, well. It’s pretty impossible to go back.”
For the last year or so, since I got my learner’s permit, I’ve been having this recurring stress dream. I’m driving my mom’s SUV, with her in the passenger seat, and the brakes give out. It’s not dramatic. Or even exciting. Instead, it’s so basic it’s almost boring. I’ll be preparing to turn or slow down a hill, press the brake pedal, and . . . nothing. I can feel the weight of the vehicle around me, impossibly heavy, pushed forward by its momentum. And I have to stop it with the sheer force of my will.
I slam my foot down on the useless brake and urge the SUV to stop. All two and a half tons of it.
Sometimes I manage to make it slow.
Most of the time, I don’t.
This is like that. If I try hard enough—stop trying so fucking hard, Lucille—it’ll stop.
“Is someone moving?” I ask. “You? Dad? All of us?”
Dad blinks some focus back into his eyes and clears his throat. “I am. I—” His voice breaks. He coughs, falsely, to cover it and pats his chest with an open palm. “I took a job over in Aurora.”
“We thought it’d be . . . easier,” Mom says.
Dad rubs his eyes. “I signed the lease on an apartment yesterday.”
I try to take a deep breath. Try, try, try. But the knot’s so tight, the room’s gone airless. Standing, I say, “I have stuff to do,” and walk away.
Behind me, Mom calls, “Luce,” while Dad says, “Let her go.”
I cross the entryway and climb the stairs to my bedroom. Close my door, squeeze my eyes shut, ball my hands up so tight it hurts. And silent scream.
But it does nothing. When I open my eyes, the knot’s still cinched tight, and my room’s a brittle void, a vacuum tailored to me alone.

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