June 17, 2013

The Lost Girl: A Close-Up Review

"Eva's life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination—an echo. She was made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her "other," if she ever died. Eva spends every day studying that girl from far away, learning what Amarra does, what she eats, what it's like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.

But sixteen years of studying never prepared her for this.

Now she must abandon everything and everyone she's ever known—the guardians who raised her, the boy she's forbidden to love—to move to India and convince the world that Amarra is still alive.

What Eva finds is a grief-stricken family; parents unsure how to handle this echo they thought they wanted; and Ray, who knew every detail, every contour of Amarra. And when Eva is unexpectedly dealt a fatal blow that will change her existence forever, she is forced to choose: Stay and live out her years as a copy or leave and risk it all for the freedom to be an original. To be Eva.

From debut novelist Sangu Mandanna comes the dazzling story of a girl who was always told what she had to be—until she found the strength to decide for herself.
(from Goodreads)
The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna


The basic premise of The Lost Girl: Eva was created to be a replica of someone else, and when that girl dies, Eva is forced to leave everyone she cares about to take up a completely new, fake life. The process of creating these "Echoes" is described in a rather vague, artistic, romanticized way in this first book, and I'm hoping to get more answers in the sequel. The expression "dust and bones" is used to describe what the Echoes are made from, but Eva also mentions "cells" at some point. Considering she is an exact look-alike for Amarra, and she appears to have "inherited" certain traits from Amarra's mother, I figure there must be some sort of manipulation at the genetic level going on. This process has been going on for something like 200 years, so I'm assuming that this is either set in an alternate reality or the future (as far as I recall it isn't made clear).

You'll have to suspend some disbelief for this one, because aspects of the worldbuilding strain credulity. For instance, the idea that Eva's consciousness is linked to Amarra's (as evidenced by dream-sharing) or the fact that the Weavers only implant the Echoes with a tracker once they're needed as a replacement. (Why don't they just stick trackers in them when they create the Echoes, so they can keep tabs on them from the very beginning and don't have to worry about escape attempts and that sort of thing?)

I was also a little skeptical about how the Weavers' job fits into the society. People know about the Echoes, but there are a lot of rumors, and the Echoes need to remain hidden so that vigilante hunters don't find and kill them. I'm not sure how feasible it would be to have people hiding these individual clones all over the place and hiring tutors/trainers for them. The whole thing is a bit far-fetched if you think about it in practical terms.

I thought the setting of India could have been highlighted more. From time to time certain aspects are mentioned (for example, the crowdedness) but I didn't feel like I was immersed in India, unfortunately.


Matthew: he may well be my favourite character of the book. I really loved him — he just brims with personality. He's so over-the-top sinister, with this dark sense of humor and a real bite to his words. His bravado, overwhelming self-confidence and suave style make him very entertaining. Admittedly, sometimes it's hard to take everything he's saying seriously — personally I didn't find him that scary — but at the same time you don't want to get on his bad side, because I expect he could back up his words. Matthew has a really acerbic, cynical way of looking at the world. He always acts like he's very much in control, even though it is sometimes all just a pretense. I definitely want to see more of him and his past to understand how he became who he is, and I'd love to see more of how he actually feels about Eva. Everything goes according to his whims, and he plays games a lot with people, but I think there is a kernel of emotion buried deep within him of the memory of love.

Eva: she's a little flatter than Matthew (although not necessarily in a bad way) — more timid, more naive. She definitely sees the darker side of life; I'd venture to say she's a pessimist, and often comes across as depressed, cautious, sad or morose. I think she views her situation quite realistically and realizes how hard things are going to be for her as well as Amarra's family. Since she's not the cheeriest narrator, it's a bit of a slog, being in her head. We can see from her perspective how difficult everything is for her. But I don't think there's any way you couldn't sympathize and align yourself with her because her situation is so bleak, and not of her own making.

Eva changes somewhat throughout, in both positive and negative ways. In the beginning she seems more objective, but she also sort of objectifies herself. I think she sees herself as something that's being used and she's okay with going along with it because she believes that's her purpose. But then as the book progresses she really starts to develop a sense of self and identity, standing alone from Amarra, and placing her own wants and needs above the Weavers' and her "destiny". She begins taking control of her life, not as content to sit back and let the Weavers do as they like.

Unlike Matthew, Eva has a real talent for assessing situations accurately, reading people and their emotions, and understanding others' perspectives. However, I think her ability to see both sides of an issue diminishes somewhat in the later part of the book, because she becomes so focused on her own survival that she starts to put other things in jeopardy. It seems like she starts to see this ability as a weakness/liability, since it means she's thinking about others' happiness and safety, which might make her less likely to prioritize her own. She gets a little overdramatic towards the end, becoming more of a typical YA protagonist, so in that regard I liked her better at the beginning. It almost feels like she's regressing in a way, behaving like an "angsty teen" as she lets her emotions leak to the surface — although perhaps it's also partly due to the fact that as the story goes on she's put in increasingly dangerous situations with greater stakes.

I can understand why she gets so desperate to save herself above all else, though, and in many ways I did like her a lot. She's very observant of both herself and others, and she places loyalty to friends quite high on her list of priorities. Despite the fact she's an Echo, she obviously has emotions and has really come to care about these people in her life — and she does the same for several of the people she meets in India.

Sean: he struck me as a lot more mature than 16, but I liked his romance with Eva. They're friends first, but at the same time it's a "forbidden" romance. He's her protector, someone she's known for the past couple years, whom she has grown quite close to and feels she can rely on. It's obvious he respects her as an individual and doesn't care that she's an Echo — he recognizes that she's her own person. To Eva, he feels like home to her; she feels safe and completely at ease with him. It's great to see that even if time and distance comes between them, they can pick up again where they left off and still have that connection.

Their opportunities for romantic interludes in Part 3 are limited because they're on the run, but they are obviously very devoted to each other. They feel so intensely about the other person that there doesn't need to be a lot of sexual stuff, because it's so clear that they're on the same page emotionally. (And when they do kiss, oh yeah...) They both want to protect each other, and it's nice to see that equality and balance in a relationship — that the girl doesn't always feel like she needs to be the one getting saved, and when she does get saved, it isn't always by the guy.

More minor characters: we don't get to know most of the side characters very well, but I liked what I saw of Eva's friend, Lekha, and I hope her character will get fleshed out in future books. We don't get to see her that often, but when we do her lighthearted nature and eccentricities burst off the page. She's quite unintentionally funny, and it helped to have that humour lightening things up, since the general tone of the story is rather bleak. I love the way she makes up and confuses words!


The themes The Lost Girl raises are fantastic, many of which echo Frankenstein, unsurprisingly. The Lost Girl touches on topics like: the ethics of creating life/playing God; nature vs. nurture; artifice vs. reality, and where the lines blur between pretense and truth; what family means; the power people who have died can still have on those who remain; the rights of a clone; the issues surrounding the decision to make a copy of your child and the emotional repercussions of that. This last I found particularly mind-stretching. If you order a copy of your child to be made (in case your child dies) does that prove your love, or does that prove you think they can be copied? Is it a stronger proof of your love for them if you let them go and don't get a copy, or if you love them so badly and are so desperate not to lose them that you want them in any form? Wouldn't it hurt more if you see someone who looks like your child every day and yet know, deep down, that it isn't them? I'd think so. I don't really understand the mindset of someone who would want to risk living with a copy who isn't the real thing, but it's certainly a very complicated, fascinating decision.

Given the potential for these themes to spark discussion questions, I think this would be a great pick for older YA readers (grades 10-12), perhaps even as a companion book to read alongside Frankenstein.


The first two sections of the book are relatively slow. In Part 1, the author introduces the reader to the world and Eva, and all of the challenges Eva grapples with just in being who she is. Part 2 thrusts Eva into India and having to fake a new life, so we see a lot of typical daily activities for a high-schooler. It's only in Part 3 that the pace picks up and things become more gripping. Overall, it isn't action-packed, but there are a few scenes that involve a lot of action, tension or both (mostly in the later part of the book). 

As with the worldbuilding, some suspension of disbelief is needed for the plot. There are some plot holes and far-fetched scenes. Spoilery examples, highlight to read: if being an Echo is illegal in India, how did Eva get the entire school not to squeal on her? The majority of them didn't like her, so I find it hard to believe that no one went to the police. And I thought it was a stretch that the hunter trusted high school kids about Eva's identity as an Echo...it seemed to cross the natural adult-teen divide in an implausible way. In particular, one element of the climactic scene gave me pause. Spoilers: I thought the plan involving the knife and Ophelia was pretty lame, and the scene at the stairs was not believable. Seriously, the guard could've disarmed Eva in a second if he wanted to...why would he feel threatened by a 17-year-old with a knife she doesn't know how to use? She didn't even have the knife at Ophelia's throat, just the flat of the blade pressed against her ribs! That said, I appreciated the twist with Ophelia's death.

Writing style:

The writing is first-class quality. While Sangu Mandanna uses some techniques I'm not a fan of (for instance, a bunch of short sentences all in a row), I think she gets across her points really well, and not usually in a preachy or condescending way, despite the fact that she's dealing with a lot of heavy issues. It's handled very maturely, coming off as more of an adult writing style than typical YA. She definitely doesn't spoon-feed the reader.

It's written from Eva's POV, but it's a bit of a distant first-person. A narrator discussing herself in 3rd-person can be a rookie mistake on the part of a debut author, but I don't think that's the case here. The more distant perspective works because Eva sees herself as a copy to be used, with a purpose she needs to fulfill. While she recognizes she has qualities that separate her from Amarra and make her different, she still sees herself (at least initially) as something that was created for a reason, rather than as a person in her own right.

The writing can seem a little overly dramatic in places, but Mandanna has an ear for a poetic turn of phrase and there are some very quotable sections.

Final verdict: 4 shooting stars.


1 comment:

  1. I've heard so many great things about this book but I keep forgetting about it. I just wrote it down. One step closer lol


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