Review: “The Lost Girl” by Sangu Mandanna

Title: “The Lost Girl”

Author: Sangu Mandanna

Genre: YA, sci-fi/fantasy, biopunk, bioethics, paranormal

Publication Date:  August 28, 2012 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Eva’s life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination—an echo. Made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, she is expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her “other”, if she ever died. Eva studies what Amarra does, what she eats, what it’s like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.

But fifteen years of studying never prepared her for this.

Now she must abandon everything she’s ever known—the guardians who raised her, the boy she’s forbidden to love—to move to India and convince the world that Amarra is still alive.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – a gorgeous and heartrending look at death, and the extremes we’ll go to prevent grief.

Review: This is not an easy book to read. Nor should it be – “The Lost Girl” deals with some of the uglier aspects of grief, including things people are driven to do in order not to experience the loss of a loved one. This book has everything for everyone – a bit of romance, some sci-fi/fantasy, issues on bioethics, a coming of age tale, and the questions of “what makes me me?” and “what really makes a family?”. Make no mistake; “The Lost Girl” should definitely be YA required reading in how raw and powerful it is, and how it refuses to shy away from how we deal with death in Western culture. It’s absolutely gorgeous in all technical areas, so in this review, I’ll talk more about the issues raised in the book instead of analyzing things in my traditional way.

It’s no mistake that I’m seriously disappointed with the way we’ve been treating our dead in Western cultures and societies within the past 90 years. We dump them in the ground in a box, we burn them and dump them elsewhere, and yet we, for long periods of time, refuse to acknowledge that they’re really gone. Up until the late 1930s, I found out through my own family stories and genealogies, that people in America didn’t always use funeral homes – especially if they were closer to the poverty line. They laid out their dead in the living room for the wake, and then had them put in a coffin and laid to rest. When I heard about how late the date of that was (I thought Americans had ended that practice around 1900), it was shocking. We had a lot better of a relationship with our dead up until the 1930s, and then a huge dissociation happened. Perhaps it was the advent of the middle class and more money, or perhaps it was the advances of science in terms of embalming, but for better or worse, we’ve left behind that intimate and important relationship with our dead and have relegated it to history. Now we take a very cold approach with our dead – literally, we freeze them until we’re ready to cry over them and then let their bodies rest.

So naturally, when I heard about this book, I had to read it. In an alternate world, where there are “Weavers”, if you pay enough money you can get an “Echo” of your children or your spouse made in case they die before their time. They must grow up to become their “Others”, by literally studying their lives and altering their appearances to look so perfectly identical that they can quietly be inserted upon the death of their Other so that no one notices. “Frankenstein” is forbidden reading (and yet, “Brave New World”, which I find to be far more callous and expository about artificial life, seems to be okay even though it’s not mentioned) because it involves how the Weavers and the Loom work. In parts of the world, Echoes are bounty for hunters, and in other parts, completely legal. There is no one-world-order decree on them, making for very fascinating geopolitical/cultural discussions in terms of what’s okay when grieving a loved one, and what’s not, and how the Weavers may not really be a boon to the wounded grieving for their dead after all.

This book is about many things, death above all being the main theme. Eva, as an awesome heroine who risks everything to become herself (even after trying very hard to do what she was made for, to be Amarra, her other), even at the threat of “unweaving” from the Loom. Amarra’s mother is the only one in the family who doesn’t seem to get that Eva is not Amarra, another very interesting dichotomy in the text. The little brother and sister seem to understand, as does the father, yet the mother does not – or rather, refuses consciously to understand who Eva actually is, and doesn’t understand that by creating the echo Eva, she’s basically negated Amarra’s death. And that’s a huge injustice that should never happen to anyone. Death and birth are of equal importance, and I think I can safely say that Amarra’s mother is a huge symbol of how we in the West treat our dead. There’s a saying I like to use – Westerners don’t die, Americans definitely don’t die, and Californians die least of all – and Amarra’s mother, even when living in Bangladesh, seems to embody that motto.

This book has a lot of introspection, so if you’re looking for plot-driven action and romance and swooning girls and hunky boys, you really need to go elsewhere. I suspect a lot of the YA set won’t like this because it’s not filled with paranormal romance or love triangles that have been manufactured steadily since “Twilight” burst out onto the scene almost a decade ago. This book asks you to think, asks you what you would do in Eva’s situation as an Echo – would you risk your own death by becoming your own person, your own self? Or would you take the path of Amarra’s parents – having copies of all of your children made, ready and waiting in case they die too young? And all throughout there’s the question of bio-ethics, which Mandanna slyly deals with by making Echoes legal in the West, and illegal in the East (in this case, India) – which easily shows about how drastically different our cultures deal with death. Those in the East live with their dead everyday, and once we have our funerals those in the West just don’t. And should it be legal to have such things as Echoes wandering around at all, trapped in lives they never asked for and being forced to perform what we, by the end of the book, know to be a total farce and shell game?

Final verdict? EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. EVEN IF IT MAKES YOU UNCOMFORTABLE. It really begs important questions from its audience, and puts you in the place of all of the characters – of Amarra’s family, of the family Eva makes with those who have raised her, of those who Weave at the Loom, of Amarra herself (when she’s alive), and everyone in between. It’s incredibly sad at times, and you’ll definitely cry some by the end of the book – get your tissues ready. But it’s a healing sort of cry, at least, in my case it was.

“The Lost Girl” will be out through HarperTeen in North America August 28, 2012, so be sure to check it out then. It’s made my best of 2012 so far list, and its place there is well-earned. Highly recommended and definitely worth the read.


2 thoughts on “Review: “The Lost Girl” by Sangu Mandanna

  1. Pingback: usagi’s challenges for 2012! | birth of a new witch.

  2. Pingback: Stacking the Shelves: Week 15 – ALA Edition Part 7! | birth of a new witch.

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