Let me start by saying I had trouble putting this book down. I made excuses to read just a little more because the characters are fascinating. This is a hard story to classify. It has elements from thrillers, cold case examinations, relationships, and the effect of technology on society to name a few. Despite this, it’s easy to read. Whether Linda’s struggling to integrate with a society she doesn’t understand or Anvi’s on the hunt for some new tidbit not to share but just to explore, these elements are a natural extension of the story. These two are the main characters, each offering a different perspective of the near future world they live in.
Linda broke free of her isolated childhood, revealing herself torn and bloodied to a world, and a father, that didn’t know she existed. Her life story went viral when it came out her mother had Linda to replicate a sister who died. It’s been twelve years, but in that time, she’s had little success finding a place in the modern world. Linda longs to return to her feral upbringing rather than navigate the complexities of social interaction. If anyone recognizes her, she’ll have to create a new safe space to avoid being hounded by a social media full of morbid curiosity seekers or those after her money. Which skips over the fanatics who believe Linda is a cloned abomination of nature rather than artificially inseminated. Free will is more of a burden than a gift to Linda. The smallest of decisions are overwhelming, and likely to go wrong, because she lacks the necessary framework.
Anvi might be the more “normal” voice, but she’s also the view of social media. She is an extrovert who doesn’t shy away from strangers and who asks potentially uncomfortable questions. In her point of view, though, we see her ponder many of the problematic issues with social media. Anvi sees the need for a responsible voice in the heart of it. She’s driven by her studies of disinformation spread during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the pandemic. This is only one example of how our contemporary events still influence those in the book. Her perspectives on privacy, the Internet, and what needs to change offers a window into the story Linda can never be.
The development of their friendship is beautiful. Each step forward Linda makes pairs with something threatening to send her back into hiding, whether provoked by Anvi or something external to their growing bond. Linda’s is a journey of discovery and trust, neither aspect a well-developed part of her character. Simple things like riding an elevator show change more dynamically than any statement of the events could. From Anvi’s side, wanting to be Linda’s friend is not enough. She must cross the treacherous ground others have filled with traps when they attempted to use Linda for their own benefit.
This is a story about people and perception. Whether it’s the debate about us being characters in a virtual reality simulation or how pre-knowledge about a person influences how you interact, there are strong psychological and philosophical elements. Linda and Anvi navigating the trials of new friendship is not the only thread that falls into these areas. We learn about the people surrounding both women, now and years before, with those relationships influencing the story present as well. Only Nibbler, the dog, stands out as straightforward, and even that relationship goes through a few twists and turns. The threat of a media storm is also tangible, expanding the story out to touch many lives. The book is complex and complicated in a fascinating way.
Systematic bias, primarily race and economic, plays an underlying role in part because Linda’s mother held her separate from society during her developmental years. She may not be affected by subconscious bias, but neither can she recognize when her actions play into them. The events between when she emerged and when the story starts demonstrate the gap between classes. Her wealth, and her father’s, shelters her from the trials of her upbringing and even reintegration. A poor child would have lived a vastly different life after emerging wild from the woods.
Anvi weighs in on this aspect as well, aware of the risks her skin tone imposes, especially when venturing out of Seattle. The state of Washington has many places where color is as rare as an astronomically wealthy feral child. She’s also aware of the economic standing that sets the two of them apart. Linda sees her wealth as a burden requiring even more caution and decisions she doesn’t want to make, but that doesn’t change the opportunities it affords.
It’s funny, but every time I question the categorization as science fiction, I realize just how much the near future tech impacts the story. It’s only slightly more advanced than where we are now in terms of wearable technology, virtual reality, and social networking. If our technological state is a boulder at the top of a hill, in the book it’s tipped over the edge and started the chaotic roll down. Reality itself comes in question in ways almost possible, or possible but little known, in our own time. But don’t be fooled into thinking the story sees no value in technology as a positive influence. It has that potential as portrayed. This book made me think, part of the reason reviewing it was so difficult, and will provoke many a fascinating book club or classroom discussion, I’m sure.
Ultimately, I enjoyed my time with these characters and the questions they raised. Little is as simple as it might first appear and the book should make you question your assumptions not once, but several times, as its story unfolds. This is the tale of a child raised to wear the shell of her dead sister, to fill a hole grief dug deep. For all the strange elements, the differences in economic power, and dangers of discovery, it’s a premise easy to identify with for a heartbeat, only to be horrified that you did a moment later. Anvi may be the easier window into their world, but the connection with Linda can be just as strong. Who hasn’t felt out of their depth after all?
P.S. I received this Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in the hopes of an honest review.