Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlouist

Veronika has lived on an island for as long as she can remember, with three other girls, Caroline, Isobel and Eleanor.  Their teachers are Irene and Robbert.  They observe thing.  They are warned to never, ever go near the water.  One day, pieces of a shipwreck wash up on shore, and along with them a girl, May.  With May's coming, Veronika realizes just how different she and the other girls are, and how dangerous the outside world can be.

This was...whoa.  There is no way to talk about this without lots of spoilers, so just be aware that there are lots of spoilers.

It doesn't take very long to figure out that Veronika, Caroline, Isobel and Eleanor are not quite...normal.  They are not regular girls.  Their attention to detail is so focused.  The questions that Irene and Robbert ask them are so specific.  They take "naps," which seem to happen whenever Irene and Isobel and Robbert need to attend to other things.  They don't eat.

What was interesting about the framing of the book is that as the reader, you never know more than Veronika does.  Ever.  Not even at the end.  It is completely through Veronika's perspective, which is, of course, a very analytical one, devoid of unnecessary emotion.  The term "robot" is never used.  Neither is "artificial intelligence" or anything like that.  It's not clear if Veronika is completely mechanical.  I think so?  We don't know how the girls were made, because Veronika does not know.  We don't know how they function, because Veronika doesn't know.  It was frustrating at times, not knowing.  I wished for an omnipotent narrator who could answer my questions, but I never got one, and a lot of my questions didn't get answered at all.

The pace of the book is very slow.  Veronika and the other girl's lives revolve around observing and telling others what they have observed.  And that's what much of the book is.  May shows up, and is frustrated with the slow pace of life.  She doesn't have the patience to sit and observe and then explain in detail what she's seen for hours.  The plot very, very slowly unfolds, and while there is a dramatic, and in many ways, unsatisfying conclusion, even that part felt slow, deliberate, like the lives of the girls.

Toward the end, Veronika is able to learn more about where she came from than she ever has known before, but even that information is sketchy and full of holes.  And by the end of the book, there is no one to ask, and the girls must figure out how to carry on and care for themselves.  And then it ends.

In many ways, totally unsatisfying.  In other ways, totally fascinating.  Give it to your kids who like to think about things and ponder life's many questions.

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