Author: Jessica Khoury
Author's Website: http://www.jessicakhoury.com/
Author's Blog: jnkhoury.blogspot.com
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)
Editor: Laura Arnold
Agent: Lucy Carson at Friedrich Agency
Released: September 4, 2012
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Challenge: 2012 YA Debut Author Challenge
Pia is unique, the product of a century's worth of work to create the perfect, immortal human. She's just anxiously waiting until she can take her place on the scientists' team and become a part of the process, creating another immortal who can keep her company. But then she discovers a hole in the fence around the compound she's never left, and she ventures out into the rainforest where she meets Eio, a native boy who shows her the wonders of the world that has been hidden from her all her life. And then, as she gets closer to her goals, she discovers the truth of her origin - and she must make choices, difficult choices, about who she is and who she wants to be.
I was captivated by this book from the very first pages. The first thing that struck me was the richness of description. Here's a passage from the first page:
Outside the compound, the jungle is more restless than usual. The wind, slightly scented with orchids, prowls through the kapoks and palms as if searching for something it lost. The air is so damp that drops of water appear, almost magically, on my skin and on Uncle Paolo's pepper-gray hair. When we pass through the garden, the heavy-hanging passionflowers and spiky heliconias brush against my legs, depositing dew onto the tops if my boots. Water is everywhere, just like every other day in the rainforest. But today it feels colder - less refreshing and more invasive.
Just listen to the music in that! Besides for using sensory images to bring the scene to life, the way each detail is described brings such life to the picture - "depositing dew" - with a sense of movement and vivacity. And that continues throughout the whole book. Everything Pia experiences has this quality of descriptive aliveness. Part of it is that she gets to see so many things for the first time when she finally leaves Little Cam and ventures out into the rainforest, so her descriptions are full and fresh. Which makes for great heartthrob scenes between her and Eio!
The premise of Origin is really unique, and amazingly thoroughly followed through. Every step of the explanation makes sense, and it's unfolded throughout the story so that it feels organic to the tale but still gives all the necessary detail. I love how there's a bit of native folklore mixed into the science. The scientific process seems like a really good explanation for the phenomenon, but when the magic gets introduced, it lends a sense of the supernatural, just the right amount, the perfect touch to sort of humanize Pia instead of having her be completely a scientific specimen.
The whole story is a gripping mystery as Pia starts to realize that Little Cam is not the perfect place she always thought it was. The suspense and tension builds thrillingly as the evil minds are slowly revealed, little by tiny detail. And then, once it all explodes and the action starts, it's a nail-biting ride! Every half a page, the tide turns and the other side has the upper hand. And then there are all the unexpected things each character does in the thick of battle.
Especially what Pia does. The ending of the book is one shocking turn of events after another, and I never would have guessed how it would turn out. I'm not going to give anything away here, but I'll just say that whether the ending is a typically happy ending or not, it definitely is satisfying. Especially the last line! (Excluding the epilogue. I don't quite get the point of the epilogue.)
The issues that Origin raises are pretty interesting ones, too. There's the obvious question about whether immortality is even a good thing, and the even more obvious but not really a question about morality and how far scientists should go "for the greater good." But the more subtle issues deal with self-identity, with wrenching choices about the future, with independence, and with trust and faith. Pia has to face all of these at one point or another in the novel, and through dealing with each situation, she grows and develops as a character.
I was just blown away by the intense emotion in Origin, from all the characters - Pia and her struggle with herself and her choices, but also Eio and his father, and Dr. Fields, and even Pia's mother, to some extent. Add to that a top-notch thriller and an extremely well-crafted plot, and you've got a winner!