Like anyone I appreciate a little mystery, a little challenge in books, TV or movies. In fact, I lose a little interest when I am miles ahead of where the plot is already guessing the next events or even ending. I just read a book where I had the opposite problem. I was initially intrigued and teased by the mysterious girls in The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist. However, as I read on the pace of the mystery of who these girls were seemed very slow to unfold, in the end, it never did. So while I don’t want or need to have every answer spelled out to me, I was left needing some answers, and was frustrated when they were never supplied.
The best parts of the book described how the girls were taught to think, methods used included how to consider animals, object and facts and describe them in detail. It was like reading a cognitive dissertation thesis but written more for laymen. Whether these girls were being trained this way because it was a preference by their guardians Irene and Robbert or some proven method wasn’t clear. It was also never revealed what these girls were being trained for. The four girls currently live on a remote island which is inhabited only be themselves and their guardians/trainers. They were told that their parents were killed in a plane crash. Even when the supply boat arrives periodically to make deliveries, the girls never meet or interact with other people. Is the fact they spend so much time together the explanation for their group think type of behavior or is it something inherent within them? Other than the color of each girls’ hair, they behave more like one being, rather than individuals. The major exception is Veronika, who begins to deviate from the instructions of the guardians and ask the right questions, though Caroline is also somewhat different in the fact that she dreams and no one else does.
The strange life the girls lead is shaken up when Veronika finds an unconscious girl on the beach, May, who almost drowned when her boat sunk. Although Irene and Robert give her medical attention, she is kept separate from the other girls. When they eventually sneak into a room to see her, she regains consciousness and screams when she sees the girls, a hint that there is something far from normal about them. On their part, the girls notice how different May is from them, her skin, her accent and the fact they she has not been schooled as they have. Veronika especially takes an interest in her and they form a bond. However, May is distrustful of Irene and Robbert’s intentions toward her and eventually runs away and hides on the island until one day as ship arrives and May springs into action to try to rescue the girls from the events that unfold as a result of the ship’s arrival.
This is not a book with a sequel, so readers are forever left with questions about the girls and what would their future have been if the ship hadn’t arrived. While I understand the author’s dilemma that after the buildup of suspense of wanting to know who Irene and Robber truly were and what was their purpose in caring for the girls, that it would be hard to give an explanation that would have lived up to that, I couldn’t help but feel cheated to not get at least a few more hints. I understood how the girls were different, but not the purpose of their lives. There was another book I read where the author in her Author’s Note at the end explained that she deliberately left some questions unanswered, and I respected that, but this book left more than a question or two, it left a giant gaping hole.