The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist
Goodreads: The Different Girl
Summary: On an island there are four girls, one with yellow hair, one with brown, one with black, and one with red. Otherwise, they are all the same. This is their world, attending school with their their two adult guardians, and this is normal. Then a ship wrecks at sea, and another girl washes ashore, a girl who talks, looks, and thinks differently. But maybe that is normal, too.
Review: This book was just about as interesting as I expected it to be, but it left me a little unsatisfied and slightly confused. The officially summary seems intentionally vague; all readers know is that there are four nearly identical girls on an island. What are they? Robots? How did they come to be? What is their purpose? It is all rather mysterious, which is half of what drew me to the book. Unfortunately, some of these questions are still unanswered for me.
Basically, the science fiction aspects are not fully developed. There is a lot of world building that is simply missing, Certainly some can be filled in through inference, and to some extent it might not really matter, but its absence can be keenly felt. It is conceivable that Dahlquist is keeping readers intentionally blind, keeping the story on the island just as the four girl only know the island—but it is extremely frustrating. Days after finishing the book, I am still itchy and irritated that I have barely any conception of the world outside the island. There are vague references to “them,” mysterious people who control something—but, yeah, I have no idea who they are or what they are doing or even want in the world.
This is also frustrating because most of the book reads like a very long set-up to a mystery. The reader is made to constantly wonder what is going on—and then he or she only half finds out. The “revelation” simply is not proportionate to the suspense. That is understandably disappointing.
Yet there is also the nagging suspicion that there is something in this book that I just did not “get.” The girls’ tutor asks a lot of leading questions in the story, and readers are clearly supposed to answer some of them, as well. But I do not understand the logic. After examining a photo, the girls decide the parrot in it is symbolic of something, and then several times question what the “parrot” in a certain situation is. And I still have no idea what the parrot means…. I admit that I strongly would like to believe all my confusion is a flaw in the book, and not just an indication I am not smart enough to understand it! Ambiguity in a book does not guarantee profundity, and it should not be used as a crutch to give the illusion of it.
I must clarify, however, that I did not dislike this book as much as my review might suggest. On Goodreads, I gave it a good three star rating. It is interesting, and it is unique. (And I absolutely love the cover, if that counts for anything.) There also is the hint of some deep thought going on behind it all. But I feel left out, or as if something was left out of the book, so I cannot rate it more highly. But I would love to hear others’ opinions, so please comment!
Side note: I also do not understand why Veronika is writing this book, or to whom it is addressed. I find it important for the existence of first-person narratives to be logical and am troubled when they do not seem to be.
Publication Date: February 21, 2013 (Dutton Juvenile)