I’ve had a copy of Gordon Dahlquist’s The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters on my To Be Read shelf for years. Literally. I haven’t been actively avoiding it—it sounds, after all, completely bananas in a super-fun way—but...you know how it is. There’s always something new and shiny to look at, and sometimes books get unfairly relegated to the Also Ran pile. When I saw that he’d written The Different Girl, a book for the teen audience, though, I snapped it right up.
For as long as she can remember, our narrator Veronika has lived on an island with three other girls—Caroline, Isobel and Eleanor—and their teacher/guardians, Irene and Robbert. Except for hair color, the four girls look exactly alike, and they spend their days learning how to think, how to communicate, how to understand the world around them. Although their days aren’t always exactly the same, their existence is calm, quiet and isolated.
Until one day, a fifth girl appears on the island. But May, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, is very different from Veronika and the others. And her presence will change them all forever.
The Different Girl might be set in a future version of our world, or it might be set in another world altogether. There are vague references to a culture that fears and hates technology—which immediately made me think of the Luddites in Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars, though that was the only similarity between the two books—but the reader isn’t given any knowledge about the world beyond what Veronika herself knows. Although the outside world ultimately comes to call, and although it certainly impacts the lives of the residents of the island, the details of the world don’t really matter all that much. That’s not what the book is about: it’s more about Veronika coming into her own, about two completely different girls forging a connection, about what life IS, even about something as seemingly simple as what it means to FEEL.
Let’s just get this out of the way: if you like your questions to have concrete answers, The Different Girl will probably not be the book for you. More importantly, if you prefer your stories plot-driven, than HOO BOY, The Different Girl will not be the book for you. Because in terms of Stuff That Actually Happens, there’s maybe a short story’s worth. A short short story’s worth.
If the idea of 200+ pages of Veronika’s thought process, careful observation and quiet questioning (not to mention descriptions of a LOT of walks on the beach) doesn’t scare you off, it may well be a good fit. If you’d like to try and see the world from an entirely new perspective—if you couldn’t tell, I’m trying to avoid spelling out what I think the cover art makes pretty darned obvious—to consider the idea of life and humanity as experienced by someone who some might claim doesn’t truly have either...well, then, give it a try. I’m curious to hear what you think.