Author: Jessica Khoury
Genre: YA, dystopian, sci-fi, biopunk, paranormal
Publication Date: September 4, 2012 (North America – Razorbill/Penguin)
Source: Publisher-provided review copy
Summary: 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. This is a supremely compelling debut novel that blends the awakening romance of Matched with the mystery and jungle conspiracy of Lost.
☆: 4/5 – a fun romp that’s half biopunk, half mythology-filled adventure!
Review: I have to say, this book was nearly everything I was hoping it to be. A mixture of biopunk and romance, self-discovery and adventure, I can see why Penguin has put it in their Fall 2012 “Breathless Reads” campaign. While it wasn’t perfect, I couldn’t put this one down.
Beware: if you’re triggery about testing on animals/animal abuse, you’d best skip over the first chapter or so of the book. It was extremely hard for me to read as Khoury went over it in detail, and there were points where I had to put the book down for a few hours before I could press on with things. However, I didn’t feel like it was needlessly thrown in there – the Aunts and Uncles testing Pia so she can join the Immortis team are showing their true colors as early as possible with this test, and I like how vulnerable and uncomfortable Pia was with doing this test. Even though she was raised by all of these scientists and is this incredible immortal, perfect creature, she still has some warmth, weakness, and humanity left inside of her. And I really liked that. Khoury could have taken a different route and made Pia even colder and harder (and thus more of a challenge to humanize), but I’m glad she crafted her the way she did. However, this doesn’t mean I’m still okay with the animal testing/torturing bit.
Pia was a great MC, though at times I found her a bit unbelievably naive. However, she was raised by scientists and hadn’t been out to the outside world, so this naivete really worked, especially when you take her “perfection” into consideration. Same with the insta-love, which I usually hate, but Khoury really made it work in this case. Imagine seeing a boy your age for the first time after pestering your Aunts and Uncles for someone just like that and being denied repeatedly, only to find one just out of reach beyond a fence you’re not supposed to cross. So the insta-love definitely worked. Khoury really captured their first meeting really well, and nearly every scene in the jungle with the two of them was utterly magical. And while Eio came out with some misogynistic stuff in the beginning, he stepped up to the plate in the end, and helped make Pia an even more sympathetic character. He frees her from Little Cam and its perfection, and while I think the insta-love angle hit him harder than it did Pia (she remained pleasantly conflicted up until the last fourth or so of the book), Eio wasn’t someone I wanted to scream at as a love interest. And in YA, I feel like that’s happening less and less.
While I will say that some of the Big Reveals I did see coming (in terms of Eio’s parentage, etc), I will say that they were adequately covered enough to that when the Reveals did happen, there still was just a bit of an element of surprise still left. And in terms of mixing in the myth of the fountain of youth with that of eugenics – well, all I can call it is brilliant. Creepy as hell, but definitely brilliant.
Khoury definitely excels in the sensory language/imagery arena – everywhere from the chill of the labs of Little Cam to the wilds of the Amazonian jungle was touched with magic. Everything felt utterly real – if not surreal. This definitely enhanced the experience for me, and made me love the book even more. While I’m glad this is a standalone and felt that it wrapped up nicely enough, I definitely look forward to more from Khoury in the future within the YA genre.
So if you’re looking for something new and magical, definitely go for “Origin”. It’s made my best of 2012 list just for subject matter alone (as well as the fact that it’s a standalone), so it’s definitely worth the read. “Origin” is out from Razorbill/Penguin September 4, 2012 in North America, so be sure to check it out then!