Author: Gordon Dahlquist
Genre: YA contemporary, Biopunk, Dystopia, SciFi
Publication Date: February 21, 2013 (Penguin – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC
Summary: Four nearly identical girls on a desert island. An unexpected new arrival. A gently warped near future where nothing is quite as it seems.
Veronika. Caroline. Isobel. Eleanor. One blond, one brunette, one redhead, one with hair black as tar. Four otherwise identical girls who spend their days in sync, tasked to learn. But when May, a very different kind of girl—the lone survivor of a recent shipwreck—suddenly and mysteriously arrives on the island, an unsettling mirror is about to be held up to the life the girls have never before questioned.
☆: 4/5 stars – a very interesting blend of contemporary and sci-fi!
Review: This one actually took me by surprise – even though it’s very simply written, there’s a much deeper element in it. Much like “Never Let Me Go” blended contemporary and alternate universe/biopunk, “The Different Girl” also mixes contemporary/near-future and biopunk as well. With a haunting ending that will stick with you long after you’ve finished the final page, “The Different Girl” is a nice breath of fresh air within YA and a great quick read if you need something deeper to think on.
Even though this book is really short, you get a very good feel for the world early on. Much like the rest of the technical elements of this book, Dahlquist doesn’t wax poetic on things. He keeps them brief, clipped, and at a steady pace – much like Veronika, our narrator, does when she talks to us. You really get the sense that she’s talking to us and not him, and I love it when authors can really make me feel their MC’s voice. Concerning the main cast – while some characters are more developed than others (May, Veronika, Irene), the rest still feel real enough to work with and get the job done. Because this is Veronika and May’s story, primarily, it seems only right that they get the most development. But everyone gets their own little journey arcs, so that helps really finish filling everyone out by the end of the book.
The worldbuilding – Dahlquist does what so many successful writers have done concerning worldbuilding – he shrinks to the world of that of the island, and only towards the end of the book does he start mentioning the outside world. By shrinking things to the island we get the feeling of immediacy and now, and aren’t distracted by anything else, aside from when May comes along. Later in the book when tensions are arising amongst May, Robbert, and Irene, only then do we find out what time period we’re in, and why we’re even on the island in the first place. There are still a few questions left unanswered (why start the girls’ project at all?), but otherwise, the world helps answer those questions slowly, at their own pace, and it lingers nicely.
The sensory input – while I think this was the weakest part of the book, I also can’t help but wonder if it’s because of the way Veronika is the way she is (I won’t spoil how or why). At times, it almost felt like an almost autistic narration – noticing details, numbers, patterns, counting things, more than actual sensations and feelings. Which was actually kind of nice, considering the content of the book. Veronika’s sensory input and narration change as she interacts with May and learns about the outside world. It’s a progressive state, the sensory language and imagery in this book – as Veronika evolves, so does her narration, and thus so does her sensory imagery and language.
But at the heart of this book, the bioethics question of ‘what does it mean to be human in a post-human world?’ comes up the most. Even if you’re not quite made of flesh like a human, can you still become one? Can you learn to love someone that’s not quite human? May answers this near the end of the book by couching it in talking about her uncle on the subject of love:
“He told me to remember what was good. He said it would make me sad – he said it was how much you loved things that made you saddest – but that I should remember him anyway. Then he talked about that very day, as if I hadn’t even been there, like a story. And in the story, I saw us. Us. I saw our lives.” (ARC pg 225)
That quote really stuck with me well after I finished the book, and even now I feel that what May said was true – how much you love things is how much you can feel sad. And for me, it resonated quite a bit. It still does, even now.
Final verdict? A short read, but an important one nonetheless. I think YA definitely needs more biopunk in this vein. Ishiguro would be proud. “The Different Girl” is out from Penguin on February 21, 2013 in North America, so definitely be sure to check it out when you get the chance.