The Lost Girl
by Sangu Mandanna
“Can we be certain of anyone’s soul, human or otherwise?”
Fiction is often most meaningful when it explores questions we find too disturbing to ask in the everyday world. Through one girl’s struggle to claim her own identity, The Lost Girl addresses some fascinating ethical questions, all the while presenting a measured, powerful essay on the value of human life.
Fifteen-year-old Eva lives, sleeps, and breathes someone else’s existence. As an echo, a carbon copy of a girl halfway across the world, she learns everything that Amarra learns and is even nearly forced to suffer the same physical injuries as her other. There have been various books that explore cloning, but what’s so unusual about this one is the psychological element, since it’s not just Eva’s organs that are being harvested, it’s her entire entity and identity.
One of the things I liked best about this book is the way the science fiction elements are handled. The creators of these echos are called Weavers, and they are presented in a somewhat mystical and mysterious manner. It has a similar tone and feeling to the film Children of Men, and the book is not unlike the way some of Bradbury’s futuristic tales are written; that is, these just happen to be human beings in extraordinary circumstances, rather than a fantastical, tech-heavy setting with some humans in it.
The writing is also well-paced, thoughtful, and beautifully descriptive, deftly balancing gravity and humor, as well as joy and sadness. Eva recalls a man with “a voice like thunder and lions” and upon her relocation, marvels at how familiar her new home seems.
I had been sent pictures all my life, of course, and Mina Ma had told me long stories about Bangalore. She had described streets, places, pieces of her life. As a child, I sat at her feet and drew picture, inspired by her voice and the flickers of memory passed on through Amarra’s and my consciousness. So many of those pictures had been true. There were ashoka trees down the middle of a long road, just the way I’d imagined…There were little stalls along the roads, open late, tea stalls with clinking steel cups and sweet shops with packets of crisps hanging from makeshift roofs. Or chips, as Mina Ma called them. Coke and Pepsi in glass bottles with steel caps. Men crouched on the edge of the road, smoking tiny not-quite cigarettes.
Every character left an indelible mark, from Eva herself to her gruff caretaker Mina Ma to her brother Nikhil to her friends at school. I was enraged by the casual cruelty Eva endures, and the parents later made me so angry that I couldn’t see straight. I do wish that Sean and Ray had a chance to be a little more developed, though the love story–and the love interest–still squeezed my heart.
“I’d rather spend the rest of my life without seeing you again,” he says,”than to watch them destroy you because of me.”
When I initially finished the novel, I rated this a 4.5 because there are some elements that might have been explained a little more, and I thought the ending was a bit rushed and perhaps a bit like a more typical YA thriller. But who am I kidding? A book that treats human life with this kind of reverence deserves nothing less than 5 stars.
This book explores loss and grief in a way you wouldn’t necessarily expect in speculative fiction and tears dripped down my face for nearly an hour as I was reading it. It is an stunning elegy for those who have been lost, a cry of sorrow for those who are left behind, and a profoundly sad lament for those whose very existence is denied. This elegant novel touched me deeply, and will leave readers with a lingering feeling of grief that is all the more devastating for its restraint and its dignity.
Recommended for: those who appreciated the themes explored in Children of Men and Never Let Me Go, those who anguished over the emotion in If I Stay, those who were drawn in by the unconventional, philosophical story in A Certain Slant of Light, and adult readers who might like to try out more quality young adult fiction.
Release Date: August 28, 2012 (U.S.), January 2013 (UK)
Rated 5 out of 5 stars
This review also appears on GoodReads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Author Sangu Mandanna also joined us on the blog with a guest post about her inspiration for this novel! You may be surprised to hear what she has to say.