The Lost Girl, by Sangu Mandanna (Balzer + Bray; August, 2012, YA, 432 pages)
Eva has lived in cozy cottage in northern England all the sixteen years of her life, with her beloved foster mother, and caring guardians dropping in to visit lots. She looks on the outside like a normal, attractive, Anglo-Indian girl.
Eva has been in danger all her life. There are people who think she is an abomination, a monster who must be killed.
Because Eva doesn't just look like an Indian girl--she is a direct copy of one. She was made by a sinister organization of genetic tinkerers to be the exact echo of a girl named Amarra, a girl growing up in far-away Bangalore. If Amarra should die, Eva will be sent to take her place, and perhaps, even to serve as a vessel for Amarra's very essence. Every week the letters from Amarra, full of the details of her life, arrive. When Amarra gets a tattoo, Eva must get one also, so their bodies match.
Eva doesn't want to be an echo. She wants to be "Eva," a name she chose for herself. But those that created her will kill her if she tries to live a life of her own.
Then Amarra dies.
Eva does her best to be Amarra....but there are things that Amarra never told her. And even the best echo cannot truly take the place of a lost child, and Eva is much more than a good little shadow....
At which point, things surge from being a fascinating speculative fiction character study to a life or death drama with stakes just as high as they can get! (with bonus forbidden romance).
Yes, this is one for the lover of character (me). And the lover of Themes being Explored (identity, and the rights we have to our own lives, and whether the created life is inherently monstrous (with many references in the book to Frankenstein) and how grief and love plays out for different people). There was action, too, especially toward the end (our girl Eva and her love fighting the Powerful Bad Guys).
And it was a really darn good read. An all in one evening, great gulping glass of water on a hot day read. Three and a half hours of all absorbing prose. Oh yeah.
It wasn't all rainbows and happy reading, though. For instance, I would have liked more richness to the Indian part of the setting, when Eva is living Amarra's life--I never felt as though I was there.
More critically, the actual premise--that echoes can take the place of a real person--is rather ridiculous; I can't imagine an echo ever successfully filling the void of the dead person. Nor does the whole set-up of the echo creators seem reasonable (even for speculative fiction). Much salt is required to swallow the central point of the story. If that's the sort of thing that bothers you, this might not be the right book for you.
(thanks to Margo Berendsen, whose review of the book inspired me to get a hold of it!)