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Book Review: Origin by Jessica Khoury

The jungle hides a girl who cannot die (front cover blurb)

The Fountain of Youth. The Holy Grail. It seems like we are always on the quest for immortality.  But what if scientists had found the answer in a simple flower found deep in the rainforest?  In Origin by Jessica Khoury, they have – but at what cost?

Origin by Jessica Khoury
Razor Bill, 2012
ISBN: 978-59514-595-6
 
“I am told that the day I was born, Uncle Paolo held me against his white lab coat and whispered, ‘She is perfect.’ Sixteen years later, they’re still repeating the word. Every day I hear it, from the scientists or the guards, from my mother or my Aunt Brigid. Perfect.” – First lines, Jessica Khoury

Pia is an immortal, the first of her kind.  Bred through several generations at a secret scientific facility called Little Cam, she is perfect – at least that is what she has always been told.  But her secret comes with many costs, one of which is that she has never left the secret lab that she calls home.  She has never seen the world, never played with children, never learned history.

 
“You are immortal, Pia, and you are perfect . . . ” (p. 1)

Like all teenagers, Pia yearns for freedom; but freedom is not something that is given willingly when people have devoted their lives, staked their scientific careers and invested billions of dollars in creating you.  So like a lot of teenagers, Pia sneaks out.  In the jungle, she meets a tribe of locals that dance wildly, believe fiercely, and live together with a connectedness she can only dream of.  Her destiny has always caused her to feel like an outsider, even in the place that she calls home, because she knows there are none like her.  Having seen this glimpse into another life, Pia becomes conflicted about her purpose.  This conflict grows as she falls in love and learns about the costs associated with her immortality.

“Freedom. It’s as intoxicating as any drug, a rush of adrenaline through my body.  Wild Pia and Tame Pia merge; fear is overwhelmed by heady exhilaration.  I am one.  I am free. I am so captivated by the emotions inside me that I don’t even see the boy until we collide.” (p. 75)
Origin is full of action, adventure, self-discovery, betrayal, redemption, and more.  But at its heart, it wrestles with one essential question: what are the ethical limitations of science?  It is often said that just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean that we should: Should we strive for immortality?  And at what cost?  Origin is a great springboard for this discussion because Pia is both a person and an investment, and although we have not yet cloned or created individuals in a lab, we are already wrestling with questions of this nature regarding DNA (Staking Claim to Your DNA in Wired magazine).  Pair this title with the nonfiction title The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot for a fascinating science and ethics discussion.
Origin by Jessica Khoury is a good, thought provoking read.  3.5 out of 5 stars and definitely recommended for teens and library collections everywhere.  This is also an interesting look at life in the Rainforest regions and a look into science (there are some good scientific discussions), and there is enough of a love story for those who like a little love with their action – and there is plenty of action.

Origin by Jessica Khoury.  Published by Razor Bill Books in 2012.  ISBN: 978-1-595-6.  A 2012 Cybils nominee in the Teen Science Fiction and Fantasy category.

Pair this with Endangered by Eliot Schrefer for an adventurous look at science and life outside the US.

Take 5: Weird Science

I recently received a special grant from my Friends of the Library grant to update our YA collection.  They tacked on an additional $500.00 with the challenge that they wanted me to add more math and science related books in the collection.  So the challenge was this: Can you find some YA titles that talk about science and math?  Here are my Take 5; 5 ya titles with enough science to meet the bill but action, adventure and more . . .

For nonfiction titles, I am a huge fan of the Basher Science books (found here).  They are definitely aimed at the younger end of the YA spectrum in terms of layout and design BUT you can’t beat them for their simple, straightforward presentation of the information.  They won’t give you in depth information for a report, but they will help you understand the basics and serve as a great ready reference tool for your basic questions.  I bought a collection of these for my tween at home for a really good price through the Scholastic book fair (which I love and The Mr. hates because of what it does to his wallet).

In addition, here are 5 of my favorite YA fiction titles that have just enough science in them to fit the bill and get teens thinking while providing quality thrills, chills and just a dash of romance.



Unwind and Unwholly by Neal Shusterman
This is a great dystopian read with a look at what a future where parents can decide to “unwind” their children may look like.  In Unwholly, out this year and amazing, they also dabble in creating a modern day Frankenstein.  Unwind is one of my favorite dystopians, out before dystopians were all the rage.

BZRK by Michael Grant
Nanotechnology: What can we do with it? What should we do with it?  This is a great guy read.  Mature content.  I am looking forward to the sequel, I really liked this one.  Read my full review here.

Virals and Seizures by Kathy Reichs
A group of teens live on a secluded island where their parents are all scientists.  Like those meddling kids from Scooby Doo, these teens just can’t keep their nose out of things and in the process of trying to solve an old missing persons case they find their lives forever changed – literally.  This series is popular with my teens.  I read book 1 and it was a decent read.



What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang
In this vision of the future, each body is born with two souls with the expectation that only one of them will remain.  The recessive soul is expected to “settle.”  But what happens when they don’t?  Is there a scientific cure?  I just finished this book and will be reviewing it in a few days.  In the end, it is definitely recommended.

 Delirium and Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
Can we alter teenagers, cut the part out of them that makes them able to love?  In Lauren Oliver’s brilliant dystopian, the future has declared love a disease and all teens undergo a surgery that renders them cured from its curse.  Moving, brilliant, and thought provoking.  This is a must read.

And of course, Origin by Jessica Khoury.

 
What’s on your list of ya lit with a hint of science?  Share it with us in the comments.