Review: Origin, By Jessica Khoury

>>Published: September 2012

Uncle Paolo’s lips twitch, and there is a sharp twinge around the corners of his eyes. For a moment, I almost sense he’s about to slap me. But he swallows and says calmly, “It’s that Fields woman, isn’t it?””

“No—”

“She’s been putting ideas in your head. I know she would. She has that way about her. If I’d had my say she’d have never… Pia. Listen to me.” He grips my shoulders and ducks his head so he’s looking me square on. There’s stubble around his mouth; he’s been working so long and hard in preparation for Corpus that he’s not even stopped to shave. “You are perfect. Perfect. Not just perfect for who you are, but for what you are. What you mean to your entire race.  You are the pinnacle of human perfection, the dream men have dreamed for millennia. There is no greater good than you, Pia. You are the end to all debates of religion and morality. There is no right and wrong. There is only reason and chaos. Progress and regress. Life and death. We created you for reason, Pia, and for progress, and for life. For life. It is the most precious thing of all, and you have more of it than anyone has ever had in history.”

***

What a breath of fresh air. Jessica Khoury’s debut novel, Origin, is a young adult novel with nary a prophecy, nor supernatural creature, nor dystopian, war ravaged world to be found. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Did I mention it looks to be a one-off and not part of a pre-scheduled trilogy? Another mark in its favour!

Origin is Pia’s story. Pia is a sixteen-year-old girl with a perfect memory, an extreme aptitude for science and learning, and unbreakable skin. She is an immortal—the first, and so far only one of her kind. Hidden away in Little Cam, a secluded, privately-funded research facility tucked away deep within the Amazon rainforest, Pia spends her days performing Wickham tests—of her intellect, her memory, her willingness to perform—and dreaming of the day when she can fulfil her life’s destiny and become a member of Little Cam’s Immortis team. The Immortis team’s goal? To create an entire species of immortals, of which Pia is only the first—the blueprint. All the while, despite the best efforts of the scientists that surround her, each of them an “aunt” or an “uncle” of differing degrees of intimacy and devotion, small fragments of the world outside of Little Cam—a world which Pia knows next to nothing about—begin to seep into their carefully controlled compound. When one night a living breathing, member of that outside world, a young boy named Eio from a nearby village, crashes into Pia, she’s given a taste of the world she’s been hidden from for so long. What’s more, she’s offered, for the first time, a differing, difficult to stomach view of the world that had created her; and through Eio, she experiences her first real taste of love.

Origin is science fiction light done right. The tale, at its core, is about a young girl wanting to break free of overbearing constraints that offer her little in the way of respect or confidence. It could easily be construed, thanks to the use of “aunt” and “uncle” to describe each and every one of the scientists and workers at Little Cam, as a story of overbearing parents unwilling to let their child grow and blossom into a fully realized individual. It’s also a love story between two children of warring families who come from vastly different worlds (someone should write a play about that), an Avatar/Dances With Wolves-style fish out of water tale, and a pre-dystopian look at science and the possibilities for future warfare that may erupt from a capitalist-run science facility with too much money at their disposal and too few ethical constraints.

As you might have figured out, I had a great time with Origin. It’s not perfect—there are, at times, a few too many redshirt scientists that clutter the landscape; Pia and Eio’s burgeoning love burgeons a bit quick for my taste; and the main villain’s deviousness and willingness to kill for his beliefs feels a bit too over-the-top in the last 100 pages—but overall, Origin is a fast-paced, surprisingly sure-footed morality play wrapped up in a physical setting not often used, especially in YA fiction. Most importantly, Pia’s arc, as she transitions from hyper-intelligent-but-still-naïve teenager to someone more mature and understanding, is handled extremely well.

As I mentioned at the top of this review, Origin feels fresh without having to do too much to reinvent the wheel; Pia and Eio are likable leads, and the intrigue behind Little Cam and the Immortis team’s true intentions, as well as their simple, sweet love story, is enough to keep one reading through to the end… possible in a single night… not that I did that or anything… did I mention I’m a sucker for immortality stories?

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