Book Review: Carola Dibbel’s The Only Ones

What lengths will a mother go to in order to guarantee her child a better life than her own? Carola Dibbel’s The Only Ones (Two Dollar Radio, 2015) takes place in a near dystopian future where a series of pandemics have ravaged the world’s population and left infrastructure spotty in the US. Protagonist Inez Fardo, seemingly immune to all diseases, sells her genetic material in order to survive in New York City. Some clients just want teeth or blood for good luck, but one mourning mother wishes to clone Inez in order to have a baby impervious to disease. When the baby is born, the mother backs out, and Inez is left raising her clone as her own daughter. Though they share the same genes, Inez is determined her daughter will not grow up like herself — uneducated and forced to sell her body for money. 

The story broaches the popular debate in science fiction novels of the ethics of cloning, and fascinatingly explores the normality of children in the age of rapidly advancing reproduction. However, Inez’s struggles and accomplishments will resonate with readers less frequently attracted to the genre because, at its heart, the book is about the bonds between mother and child.

Readers be warned: the novel takes several pages to truly get drawn into because the beginning is hard to follow without a bit of back story, but if you stick with it you've found a precious gem. Dibbel’s proof as a master writer comes through in the language of the narration: told from the uneducated yet wise Inez’s perspective, it includes grammar and spelling mistakes, as well as colloquialisms. Though such an artistic choice rarely pays off and often frustrates readers, in this case it works and still makes for a smooth and quick read. The frequent change in tense pulls readers in and keeps them on their toes, and as Inez ages, becomes more inquisitive, and learns more about the world around her, so too does the complexity of her explanations and narration, broadening readers’ understanding of the dystopian world and helping to show Inez’s growth.

Many readers will enjoy The Only Ones, science fiction geek or not, especially those looking for a fresh and unusual voice that makes old themes come alive.