Origin by Jessica Khoury
Pia grew up in a glass house fenced off from the rainforest in the middle of nowhere. Her “aunts” and “uncles” have always told her she was perfect – and it wasn’t just the sweet compliments of family. Pia is the result of a generations-long scientific experiment leading to immortality; she is perfect. But, she is still a teenager and the mix of teenage identity crisis and hints of secrets kept from lead her to start questioning everything she’s been told by the scientists around her. As she rebels against the rules and restrictions hemming her in, she learns more about her origins than she ever imagined.
One night Pia decides she’s tired of following the rules and she sneaks out of the fence. She just happens to run into Eio, a very attractive native boy. Their relationship escalates quickly, which felt a little too like insta-love for me, but also feels totally true to Pia seeing as he’s the first new person even close to her age that she’s ever met. I also felt a little uncomfortable with the “perfect white girl” falling for the “wise native boy” theme, but since Eio and several other villagers are fairly well rounded, it didn’t fall totally into the trope realm.
Pia is smart, strong, and brave – and not just because she’s immortal. She doesn’t let warnings or rules keep her from questioning what she is told to do and, even though it may mean sacrificing her dream, she follows her moral compass. Two negative points for this category: Pia’s extra jealous reaction to Dr. Fields and Pia’s mom – although knowing how they both were raised, these aren’t so unexpected.
Pia is white and perfect. Just that makes it hard for me to give bonus points, even though it may not be fair since that, unfortunately, is probably what most people would describe if you asked. But, more than that, it was the native storyline and how it played out for me, it just seemed a little too easy and perfect – the native medicine man had all the answers just waiting in his native legends for the perfect white girl to come along and save them from the bad white scientists. But, a couple of the Ai’oan characters were well developed, so it didn’t fall too far…I think. Maybe.
Overall, I liked Pia and reading along as she started to question everything she thought was true. I thought the juxtaposition of Wild vs Normal Pia was a great way to describe the warring parts of her identity; she read very much like a socially isolated, mentally gifted 17 year old – both awkward and appealing at times. I also think the questions raised about science and how far we should go to achieve goals are especially pertinent as science continues to push forward.
Uncle Antonio because he follows his heart on more than one occasion and has always been a balancing force against the scientific single mindedness the others around Pia have been exerting all her life. I wish he had been developed a little more, but appreciate the small glimpse we did get of his back story.
Khoury does a great job switching between poetic descriptions of the world around Pia and her analytical, scientific mind.
“Most of all – and this is what I missed most during my nighttime wanderings – is the color. The rainforest is green on green; the color must have been invented here, and in a thousand different forms. Against the green wash, a shot of purple orchids or orange mushrooms stands out vibrantly demanding attention…
Despite all the beauty around me, my eyes keep wandering back to Eio. He pushes every branch out of my path, careful not to let them swing back and hit me.”
Is this worth a book hangover?
Once you get into the action, the book is easy to fall into and the pages keep turning. I wanted to know what Pia ended up doing and the mystery of elysia and immortality kept me reading for the answers. In some ways, this definitely feels like a first book because of pacing and heavy-handedness with the “message,” but overall it was a fun, interesting read.
Fun Author Fact
Jessica Khoury’s first book was fanfiction at the age of 4, she has Scottish and Syrian heritage, but grew up in Georgia (USA).
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