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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.