Origin by Jessica Khoury
Reading level: Young Adult
ARC: 394 pages
Release date: September 4, 2012
Reviewed by: Stéphanie
Source: Won from Heather Marie
Pia has grown up in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon rain forest. She was raised by a team of scientists who have created her to be the start of a new immortal race. But on the night of her seventeenth birthday, Pia discovers a hole in the electric fence that surrounds her sterile home–and sneaks outside the compound for the first time in her life.
Free in the jungle, Pia meets Eio, a boy from a nearby village. Together, they embark on a race against time to discover the truth about Pia’s origin–a truth with deadly consequences that will change their lives forever.
Origin is a beautifully told, shocking new way to look at an age-old desire: to live forever, no matter the cost.
A very intriguing and original debut, ORIGIN definitively caught my attention when I first read the summary. As a wannabe science geek, the idea of creating an immortal race of human beings through science was something I really wanted to know more about. Scientifically, the immortalization described in this book doesn’t really make sense, but for the purpose of telling a fictional story, it works. Jessica Khoury created a rich setting and wonderful characters to tell her story
While the idea of immortality to question the mortality and the morality of the human race was genius, the science of it just didn’t work for me. The unrealistic science is my main concern about the book. I liked how part of the immortalization process is through the nectar of a plant found in the Amazon rainforest, but the catalyst to make the elixir work is a little too far fetched for me. I’m not going to reveal more about the catalyst because that would ruin the story for those who haven’t read the book, but truthfully, I expected more.
One thing that did work for me is the development of the characters. Pia is a wonderful heroine despite her indecisiveness about the group of scientists she lives with and about her romantic feeling towards Eio, the boy she literally meets by crashing into his naked chest. For an educated and intelligent girl, Pia is very cloistered, knowing almost nothing about what lies outside the gates of her little village in the middle of the rainforest. As the only immortal human, the scientists of the village have decided to raise her by revealing nothing of the outside world. And that means growing up with no children surrounding her and without any idea what true family and romantic relationships are about. So when she meets Eio and his amazon tribe, the idea of loving people and caring for their well being somewhat new to her. Pia’s indecisiveness can get a little tiresome after a while but it’s really what keeps the story going by questioning her immortality and her morality. At first, Eio seemed a little unrealistic because of his forced and cheesy dialogue but as the story went on, he convinced me that his feeling for Pia were authentic.
Morality is a theme that’s investigated well throughout the book. Pia is raised to have an analytical and scientific mind but that doesn’t prepare her for the tests the scientists of her village make her go through. Doing something evil for the greater “good” of their research makes her doubtful and when the final test comes along, I think it’s the final turning point for her. Morality wasn’t a concept taught to her growing up but meeting and speaking to people she shouldn’t speak to opens a whole new world to her, almost literally.
The first person narrative is perfect for this book because we get to see Pia’s world through her naïve point of view. We get to see how her mind works even if we don’t completely understand her way of thinking. We see her grow as a person throughout the book as she discovers things that have always been forbidden by her small community, for example, leaving the gated community to go meet Eio. Her defiance for the rules makes us cheer her on, but at the same time, we worry about the consequences of her being caught. In fact, being caught is one thing she’s afraid of as an immortal (that an anacondas) because she doesn’t know what the consequences may be.
ORIGIN really wasn’t what I expected and that’s not a good nor a bad thing. The story simply caught me by surprise and the originality of the novel is a definite plus. The rich and luscious setting of the amazon rainforest really worked to the author’s advantage because it’s not a setting that’s utilized often. It feels fresh, authentic and most important of all, well researched. I think, for a debut novel, the story was quite entertaining since it had me speed through it to get to the end. It’s not a book that enthralled me but I can see how it could please many readers. The forbidden romance, the hidden secrets and fighting the rules are the basis for a good YA novel, and the author hit all these points. I just wished the science behind it all could have been a little more realistic.