'Beta': Want teens without hormones? Try a clone

Susan Carpenter / Los Angeles Times /

“Beta” by Rachel Cohn (Hyperion , $17.99, ages 14 and older)

There’s something about clones that fascinates, whether it’s real-world breakthroughs like Dolly the sheep or disturbing fictional accounts, like “Blade Runner.” In “Beta,” it’s teenagers being replicated in the kickoff to a new series from best-selling young-adult author Rachel Cohn.

Many a parent has longed for the type of teen presented here — one who doesn’t talk back, plays by the rules and is always accommodating. Programmed by computer and stripped of the pesky hormones that prompt erratic, unwanted behavior in real flesh-and-blood teenagers, clones would seem to be all upside. At least it seemed like a good idea on Demesne, the island locale in “Beta.”

The exclusive island, with its scientifically altered climate, is a playground for the wealthy. Living in paradise, the rich are, of course, loathe to deal with a human help staff, so the butlers, maids and cooks are all clones whose data chips ensure they will do nothing but serve their owners.

As the book opens, the local cloning lab has just finished an experiment. They’re beginning to make teenagers. Elysia is one of two so-called betas, or prototype teen clones, recycled from dead bodies whose souls were extracted to prevent their clones from feeling emotion.

Cohn is best known for co-writing the young-adult-novel-turned-movie “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” with fellow novelist David Levithan. With “Beta,” she has a terrific premise that is equally well executed.