The Different Girl

by Gordon Dahlquist
ages: 11+
First sentence: “My name is Veronika.”
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On this island there are four girls — Veronika, Isobel, Eleanor, and Caroline — who are exactly alike. Same size, same weight, same temperament. They tell each other apart by their hair: Isobel’s is yellow, Caroline’s is brown, Eleanor’s is black, and Veronika’s is red. They’ve been on this island as long as they can remember with their teachers Irene and Robbert.

I’m going to make an aside here and mention that one of the things that truly fascinated me about this book was the puzzle that it presented. Dahlquist doesn’t come out and say that these four girls are some sort of robot. Or that this world is some sort of dystopian place. Rather, he put clues — a click behind the ear when the girls go to sleep; an aversion to water; how their hair has to be in the sun — throughout the book in order to give us a sense of how these girls view themselves.

Especially once May — a real, live girl — is shipwrecked on their island. She brings with her questions, ones that Veronika, our narrator, can’t answer. And when an outside ship comes to the island, it’s up to May and the four girls to figure out how to keep safe.

It takes a really unique premise to get me hooked these days, especially when it’s a dystopian/apocalyptic world. And this one did it. I loved the robot narrator, I loved the questions that the book presented, I loved that the world was implied but never fully explained. I loved the science fiction elements of the story, but also how very human it was. I don’t know if kids would “get” it the way I did; there’s a lot of room for confusion, but also a lot for discussion.

I think this is one that will stay with me for a while.

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