The Different Girl, by Gordon Dahlquist (Dutton Juvenile YA, February 21, 2013, 240 pages) was a lovely character-driven sci-fi change from my regular reading, and I enjoyed it lots.
It tells of four girls, who have lived all their lives on an isolated island under the attentive eyes of two adults who are their teachers and guardians. One girl is blond, one brunette, one redhead, and one, Veronika, the narrator of the story, has black hair, but otherwise, they seem identical. And they never question their routine--it is all they have ever known.
Then a fifth girl comes, the only survivor of a shipwreck. Veronika's world is forever changed by the differences of this girl, and the questions that her presence brings. The world of the island is no longer safe--enemies are approaching, death becomes a real possibility-- and Veronika's assumptions about herself and the other three girls are shaken to their core.
Oh goodness, this is a hard one to review, because the reader's assumptions, and the picture of the island that seems so simple at first, all becomes so much more tangled, and interesting, and beautifully thought-provoking, with the arrival of the different girl. And all these tangles aren't exactly explained, because everything the reader knows is filtered through the lens of Veronika's mind, and her mind is not exactly ordinary. So we don't see the big picture explaining all the whys of this particular world, because Veronika never finds many answers, but we do see her changing, as her peace, both of mind and of place, become progressively shattered.
Those who enjoy really quirky, occasionally frustrating, stories of what it means to be a thinking being may well enjoy it as much as I did. (Those who like stories about girls in orphanages/boarding schools might also like it for that aspect of it!). I myself found it a memorable and gripping character-driven mind-trip. That being said, those who like their world building actually built, with questions answered and things explained, who like books that have Plot front and central point (as opposed to a book like this, in which the central point is one character's experience of plot-like elements she doesn't understand), might well be frustrated.
For those who are curious about the spoilery part of it--it becomes clear pretty early in the book (which I appreciated--it let me in on the whole thought-experiment aspect of the story), and the cover actually shows a rather clever spoiler, and so I will tell what it is (highlight to read)
The four girls are robots. They are there on the island to be kept safe from those who wish to destroy them, while they are being taught how to be thinking beings.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.
A sampling of other reviews: Presenting Lenore, Reading Rants, and Alexia's Books and Such