Finally! A book about immortality, and not a vampire to be found. How utterly refreshing!
In Jessica Khoury’s novel Origin, a team of skilled geneticists have engineered the future of humankind: Pia, an immortal girl with the perfect combination of superior intelligence and beauty. Of course, they must work in a secret laboratory deep in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, and in her sixteen years, Pia has never left the compound called Little Cam. She is a bird in a cage, and despite her unique qualities, she suffers from typical teenage angst, brought on in part by the arrival of Dr. Harriet Fields, a bold outsider who joins the Immortis scientists. Pia suspects that there is more to her life than the walls of the compound, and so one night she runs away into the jungle, where she meets Eio, a boy from the Ai’oan tribe. Seriously attracted to Eio, Pia embarks on a dangerous double life, and she begins to fear the motivations of the scientists that she has lived all of her life with. What can she do when all of the truths she holds sacred become sinister lies?
Origin is a great package: a murder mystery cloaked in science fiction, with a little romance thrown in. The combination of corporate greed, slightly cracked brainiacs who will do anything for the dream of immortality, and an endemic Amazonian orchid that promises everlasting life is frighteningly believable. The sanitized, clinical world of Little Cam, with its genetically-manipulated creatures and life-altering drugs is in stark contrast to the beauty of the jungle outside, which is alive with wild animals and the free-spirited Ai’oans, who are desperately trying to retain some of their traditional knowledge and customs in the face of integration with modern society.
Khoury does a fantastic job of translating Pia’s confusion and fear to the page, but I can’t help but wonder if, in this case, the book should have been written in the third person instead of the first. For some reason, I rather felt like there was a detachment in Pia’s voice right from the get-go – and whether or not that was deliberately done to illustrate her scientific grooming, it never really changed as the story moved forward. Pia’s voice simply isn’t as captivating as that of certain other female heroines (yeah, I’m looking at you, Katniss). However, I admit I waffle on this point. The intimacy that the first person narrative provides is critical to hashing out the moral questions of the book – it likely wouldn’t have the same in-your-face effect if it was pulled off any other way.
My biggest “huh?” moment (and the reason I’m rating this only 4.5 stars) came with the epilogue, actually. I have no idea why it’s there. I guess it’s supposed to tie up loose ends, but it’s so jarringly out of place that I had to read it twice to make sure I wasn’t missing some hint for a sequel or an overlooked piece to a puzzle I thought had been solved. It’s weird, quite frankly. Otherwise, Origin is a page-chewing good read, definitely worth examining for its exploration of science and morality.