Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

The Adoration of Jenna Fox--Mary E. Pearson
April 2008 by Henry Holt and Co.
266 pages--Goodreads

Who is Jenna Fox? Seventeen-year-old Jenna has been told that is her name. She has just awoken from a coma, they tell her, and she is still recovering from a terrible accident in which she was involved a year ago. But what happened before that? Jenna doesn't remember her life. Or does she? And are the memories really hers?

This fascinating novel represents a stunning new direction for acclaimed author Mary Pearson. Set in a near future America, it takes readers on an unforgettable journey through questions of bio-medical ethics and the nature of humanity. Mary Pearson's vividly drawn characters and masterful writing soar to a new level of sophistication.

I really enjoyed this book.  From the intriguing beginning all through the book it was well paced.  I was engrossed by Jenna's story and could not put the book down.  It was compelling in the same way as the episode of Stark Trek: Next Generation in which there is a trial to determine whether or not Data is alive.  Some plot elements were easy to guess, but I was reasonably able to put aside my guesses and just go with the flow of Jenna's slow re-discovery of her life and her world.  The book is in first person and Jenna's voice is distinct, but not something every reader will like.  She spends a lot of time musing semi-poetically about things. I think that quality is appropriate for this book, but it will bug some readers and it took me a while to get used to.

Adoration is set in the near future.  The science is foreign enough to be futuristic, but plausible enough to be believable for a story set 50ish years from now.  While the book has some science fiction elements, it doesn't rely too heavily on them, making it great for readers who don't normally go for hard sci-fi (like me).

There is so much room for discussion with this book.  I would love to use it in a classroom of 9th or 10th graders.  What does it mean to be human?  What does it mean to be alive?  What is thought or consciousness?  How far will parents go to save their child?  How far should science be allowed to go?  Should it be limited at all?  Can you ethically save someone when there is hardly enough to be considered human?  Can you ethically not save them if you have the power to do so?  These questions don't have clear right or wrong answers, but they are important to consider.  Pearson writes in such a way that she brings these topics up for discussion without trying to force the "right" answer down on your throat.

Jenna's character is erratic at times.  She is perfectly fine one minute and the next she is angry and yelling at people with no transition in between.  It feels at times as if she has two separate personalities.  This may be Pearson's attempt to show Jenna straining against the restraints of her parents, but it feels unnatural.  Also, Jenna's relationship with Ethan is too rushed.  Total and complete trust comes into play after they have known each other for just a couple of weeks.

There is a sequel, for those who are interested, but for me the story is complete as a stand-alone.  Even the epilogue doesn't need to be there; it throws off the flavor of the rest of the book.  Adoration is definitely a slower, more ponderous book, but it makes you confront difficult issues in a satisfying way.  

There is some strongish language in a few places.

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