The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox awakes from an 18 month coma with no memories, strange voices in her head, a distrustful grandmother, and creepily overprotective parents. Set maybe a century and a half in the future, a quarter of the the world’s population has been killed by super-bugs (the virus-type, sadly not gigantic preying mantises). A strict government bureaucracy is in charge of bioethics to make sure that the abuses of the past are not repeated, leaving a lot that is possible but forbidden. As Jenna begins to regain some memory, it grows clearer to her that her parents are not telling her much of the truth behind the accident that almost killed her.
Like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a large part of the fun in the early part of the book is how blank-slate Jenna is able to see through people’s petty hypocrisies, verbal ticks and social niceties; to strangers she comes off seeming sarcastic and brutally honest. The unnatural origins (trust me on this, to talk very much about the plot would spoil it) of her amnesia allowed for a very intelligent character with no memory of most words or concepts. So it is ironic that eventually she starts remembering things from as far back as infancy. The hot-topicness of the story and its focus on genetic engineering doesn’t raise any new or interesting ideas, other than to argue for moderation and thoughtfulness. I found the examination of authenticity in an age of easy replicability more interesting: how can a value be placed on something if it can be easily reproduced? Teenagers will probably relate to Jenna’s struggles to find and define herself more than I did. But overall I was disappointed in the book. Having a first-person narrator was not enough to give a sense of immediacy or importance to the plot or to make the reader feel invested in Jenna’s struggles. Her relationship with her parents, central to the plot, never felt deep or real. Their struggle and perspective were not relatable and came off as being creepy instead of heartbreaking (which if written better, they could easily have been tragic figures). There was never even a cathartic feeling of righteous indignation at what they’d done/continued to do to Jenna. And then the plot twists and reveals that were supposedly going to propel me through the book were easy to see from a mile away. And in the end, some of the devices, like the voices in her head, just didn’t make sense. A few of the characters, like her grandmother and reclusive but famous artist neighbor, were complex and interesting. But many of the others had no role other than to add dimension to the themes being developed. Like a sexy, psychopathic neighbor who is menacing throughout, never manages to be much of a threat, and is only there as a foil to Jenna’s character. And then, silliest plot point of all is the fact that her family is in deep-dark-secret hiding, her father is famous, but they’re using their real names.
Further hurting this book’s chances at finding a teen audience is its terrible cover art. Having read the book, I could find easy justifications for why it is the way it is, but it doesn’t do a very good job at hinting at what is inside and the bad graphics look cheesy instead of intentional. Also, the tagline, “How far would you go to save someone you love?” isn’t fitting at all. Though I should add, I’m the only person who seems to think this, it’s been getting universally good and starred reviews.