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Off the Shelves: ‘Origin’ a tantalizing science fiction tale for teens

POSTED: September 23, 2012 7:00 a.m.

In “Origin,” Jessica Khoury’s debut young adult novel, the author explores a well known theme — the quest for immortality — and puts a new variation on it: What is the value of one’s life, and the lives of others, to someone who is already immortal?

Pia is one of a kind — literally, in that she is the first and only immortal human being to ever exist. Her whole life, she has been sequestered away from civilization in a secret laboratory deep in the Amazon jungle.

There, her scientist “family” educates her on what she will need to know to create immortals like herself. She is forbidden to ever leave the grounds, having been warned that the rest of the world would not accept or understand what she is.

Now 17, Pia is beginning to feel restless, wondering what the world beyond the electric fences holds. When a rare opportunity to escape the facility suddenly presents itself, she runs off into the jungle, where she meets a native tribal boy named Eio.

Pia’s logical, scientific mind begins to combat her emotional, romantic mind as she is torn between her responsibilities at the facility and sneaking out to see Eio and his village.

Gradually, the secrets of Pia’s origin and the intentions behind the Immortis Project start to unfold, revealing truths that will make Pia decide if her immortality is worth its fatal price.

Khoury does a wonderful job exploring Pia’s thought process throughout the novel. Raised to be solely analytical and always told she is “perfect,” Pia starts out as overconfident and prideful, yet still retains a sense of compassion and respect for all living things and the people around her.

She mentally processes her experiences and observations as an adult would, but she still has her natural teenage desires and impulses.

When she starts to experience love for the first time, her reaction is to break it down to a chemical level or scientific equation, but soon discovers that those methods cannot adequately explain matters of emotion.

It’s interesting how her mind gradually evolves throughout her journey, and she is a constantly engaging personality who makes for a likeable heroine.

This is a fairly female-centric story, as most of the strong and well developed characters are women. The male characters, while they are distinctive enough, do not have the same depth or uniqueness.

Eio is a typical teenage boy whose sole purpose is to be a love interest for Pia, and a catalyst for her mental/emotional transformation. Most of the other men each fall into general character roles designated as either “good guys,” “villains” or “simply there for a plot point.”

Granted, the cast is large so not every character can be devoted the same amount of time for development.

By being placed in roles we are all too familiar with, however, these characters turn out to be pretty predictable and we foresee many of the characters’ actions and ultimate outcomes before the end.

While its mood and plot elements reflect that of many other teen novels on the market, “Origin” does have good pacing, a nice spin on a classic theme and crisply crafted writing.

It is a good addition to the science-fiction/fantasy teenage dramas that are currently so popular, and it will be nice to see what other creative tales Khoury can weave for her audience.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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