The Lost Girl - Sangu Mandanna

This book left me speechless - in a good way. The Lost Girl is the debut novel of Sangu Mandanna and it is an outstandingly excellent read. I just didn't want it to finish. I love science fiction/fantasy and ya so I always look forward to any new release which encompass these genres.

Eva is an 'echo' a copy of a girl called Amarra, a young girl who lives in India with her family. She has been created with the sole purpose of taking the place of Amarra if she ever died. Growing up in England, Eva's life has never truly been her own. Brought up by guardians, all her life she has had to ape Ammara. She is given constant updates on Amarra's day to day activities and she must perform these perfectly if she is to ever be required. She has to study what Amarra studies, eat the same food, read the same books and so on.

Of course, it is not long before the inevitable happens. Ammara is killed in a car crash so Eva is sent to Bangalore to take her place. Eva does not want to leave her guardians behind. She considers these people her family and closest friends. She especially does not want to leave Sean behind; the youngest of her guardians who may in fact be becoming something more. However, Eva does not have a choice. If she cannot successfully integrate into Ammara's life she could face a 'sleep order' (which is exactly what it sounds like). There is also the added pressure that her kind are illegal in India so Eva must takes extra pains not to stand out and draw attention to herself. There is also the threat of hunters (those who find the echoes and try to destroy them at any cost) although Eva sometimes questions just how at risk she actually is from them.

Ammara's parents react differently to the new version of their daughter. Her mother Alisha is determined to believe that Eva is her lost daughter, whilst her father Neil is under no such illusion. The two younger siblings Nikhil and Sasha accept her as a member of their family but they never mistake her for their lost sister. I loved the family dynamics in this. Eva begins to care for her new family but she never feels totally at ease with the parents, having to pretend so much with Alisha and having never fully been accepted by Neil. On the other hand, her relationship with Nikhil and Sasha is wonderfully realized. Having spent so much time pretending to be fond of them, Eva genuinely develops a strong bond with her new siblings.

Her relationship with Amarra's closest friends and boyfriend Ray were also wonderfully depicted. At first they have no idea that Eva is not Amarra but the truth soon comes out and they are understandably devastated, especially Ray who was driving the car at the time of the accident. The treatment Eva endures at their hands is brutal and although I could understand their sense of hurt and betrayal, their cruelty towards her made me angry. There was also a point in the story where I was disgusted with the parents ****spoiler begins****when they find the letter that Amarra had written to them begging them to initiate the sleep order on Eva in the event of her death. Although I could see why they would want to honour their daughter's last wishes, by this time they have become to know Eva as herself and they know that their daughter's fears of letting a 'monster' live with them are unfounded****spoiler ends****.

I also really loved Eva's relationship with her guardians and the love interest Sean was certainly swoon-worthy. He always put Eva first and they had a believable chemistry and affection for each other so I bought into them as a couple. I did like Ray ****spoiler begins****right up until he betrayed Eva to the hunter and nearly got her killed****spoiler ends**** but I am glad he was never really a true contender for Eva's affections. He was in love with Amarra and it would have felt a bit squicky for me if he had transferred his feelings onto Eva.

I also liked the fact that the mysterious nature of the Weavers (the ones who are responsible for the creation of the echoes) and the Loom (where the work takes place) were never really fully explained. There was enough explanation to not come across as entirely unrealistic but the threat the had over Eva felt more tangible because I could never completely wrap my head around what they were trying to achieve. Sometimes when things are not explained fully enough it can drive me nuts but it worked with this story as it created an almost mystical, enigmatic element.

I absolutely adored this book, not just for the interesting questions it raised as to what extent can someone be considered 'human' but also because Eva was such a blindingly good main character. I fully related to her situation and I never found myself questioning her motives or actions. I was pretty much with her 100%. Her feelings were always very clear to me and even when she acted rashly I could always understand her motivation for doing so.

If I had any criticism it would be that the book seemed to end rather abruptly. There is a lot left open to interpretation which I usually like but in this instance I would have preferred more of a denouement as I was very attached to most of the characters and wanted to know what happened to them.