By Jessica Khoury
Available now from Razorbill (Penguin)
Part of the Fall 2012 Breathless Reads
ORIGIN is a science fiction novel that appears to be a standalone. Say it with me ya'll: YES! I love a good, standalone sci fi novel and I am still craving them. Thus I am very happy that they seem to be becoming more popular in the young adult section. (Or at least the publishers are pushing the genre more.)
Pia is a spoiled brat living in Little Cam, a small laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon. She has reason to be spoiled. The scientists tell her she's perfect, the best at everything she does, although they work to keep her ignorant of the outside world. They also make her pass Wickham tests, and we all know something named after the cad from PRIDE & PREJUDICE can't be good. Pia is minimally curious about the outside world until a new scientist comes to Little Cam. Aunt Harriet is glamorous, flirtatious, and less inclined to keep secrets from Pia.
Just as Pia's curiosity is aroused, she discovers a hole in the fence and leaves the compound for the first time in her life. There she meets Eio and his people, the Ai'oa. Suddenly becoming a scientist isn't Pia's only goal. But she can't give up her original dream - because she's immortal and wants to create other immortals to live with.
When I started ORIGIN, I only meant to read a few chapters while waiting for my toenail polish to dry. I ended up finishing the book. I mean, obviously the scientists are up to no good, but I loved waiting to see how Pia would figure it out. I thought the relationship between Pia and Eio was well done too. Both grew up as outsiders - Pia being the youngest person around and immortal; Eio being half white - and they're both instantly attracted to someone who is more like them than anyone they've ever known. They do, however, spend time together before doing anything really crazy.
I also liked the subtle exploration of colonization, racism, and classism in ORIGIN. The scientists treat the native Ai'oa as stupid and ignorant and take over part of their land. Meanwhile, the Ai'oa are just as intelligent and any other people and know quite a bit more about the local flora than the scientists since they've been living with it for centuries. Pia learns things Little Cam never dreamed of because she bothers to get to know people.
ORIGIN is the anchor title of the Fall 2012 Breathless Reads campaign and I think Penguin made a great choice. I was breathless while reading Jessica Khoury's debut novel. ORIGIN will appeal to sci fi and romance fans, and the immortal angle might draw some paranormal fans into the SF fold.