Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: Origin by Jessica Khoury

Review: Origin by Jessica Khoury
Rating: Gorgeous concept, vivid imagery, a difficult but ultimately likeable protagonist, and a unique setting attempt to overcome inconsistent pacing and some insta-love. Plus, I absolutely MUST get myself a pet jaguar. I must.


Pia has grown up in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon rain forest. She was raised by a team of scientists who have created her to be the start of a new immortal race. But on the night of her seventeenth birthday, Pia discovers a hole in the electric fence that surrounds her sterile home--and sneaks outside the compound for the first time in her life.

Free in the jungle, Pia meets Eio, a boy from a nearby village. Together, they embark on a race against time to discover the truth about Pia's origin--a truth with deadly consequences that will change their lives forever.

Origin is a beautifully told, shocking new way to look at an age-old desire: to live forever, no matter the cost.

This idea sucked me in right away. A girl in a glass house in the jungle, staring out at the wide world she can never belong to. Plus, she’s immortal. I also love books about science having gone amok and bioethics and what’s truly moral and what should be done for the “greater good”. I loved the brutality of the “Wickham tests”, tests among to scientists to prove how much of your humanity you were willing to sacrifice in the name of scientific achievement. Put that against the backdrop of the lush, untamed, colorful Amazonia jungle and I am sold.
While the book didn’t quite deliver on its amazing concept (because to me that concept is just so amazing), I still enjoyed it... with some serious reservation. Plus, I met the author, and she’s lovely and has the prettiest hair I’ve ever seen. I want it on my head in a totally non-creepy hair.

Pia was kind of a bitch sometimes. Not mean, necessarily, but rude and standoffish and completely obsessed with how physically superior she is, but it made some sense. After, she has had possibly the strangest upbringing of any character I’ve ever read about (and I’ve read Flowers in the Attic, people. Okay, no, that one’s stranger. But still. Warning for people who are now looking this book up: NOT FOR CHILDREN.). She, a scientifically engineered immortal being, has been raised by a whole camp of scientists in total isolation in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, which means she can name the phylum and kingdom and species of every plant and animal around her, but she doesn’t know what Brazil was. Yeah. That is messed up. She only learned what a party was from the dictionary.
Every now and then, I didn’t quite believe it—seriously, that must have been a very informative dictionary. It was totally bizarre and almost impossibly to relate to, but fascinating. Yet that’s how the scientists, a lot of whom have lived in Little Cam, the scientist’s isolated compound, live their whole lives. They are part of the Immortis research team, aka the ones who have worked for several generations to birth one immortal girl. AKA Pia. She is so incredibly strange that I found it mostly amusing and occasionally irritating. Socially awkward doesn’t begin to cover it. She actually has no idea what society even is. Watching her interact with Dr. Fields, who comes from the outside world and therefore knows what things like “skittles” and “San Francisco are”, actually was just kind of funny.
However, Pia's nickname for her (Dr. Klutz) was just plain bitchy. Also I didn't really see the joke. Maybe if it had been a clever play on her name? What is with all the girl hate, Pia? Anyway, crass, irreverent Dr. Harriet Fields, the only one willing to both let Pia know what a sheltered snot she was and help her become a real person, is my favorite character. She's also very complex and probably the most developed of the side characters.
What I particularly loved about Pia were the feelings she had about what it’s like for her to be the only one around her who won’t die, and how lonely it is. I loved how torn she was between Scientist Pia and Wild Pia, between the call of the jungle and the comfort of home, between sexy Eio and the guidance of “Uncle” Paolo, lead scientist of Little Cam (she calls all the scientist Aunt or Uncle, which is enormously creepy in some cases and sweet in others). And yet, most of the time I wanted to shake her because of how indecisive she was being. She was basically screwing around with Eio due to her inability to make a damn decision. To make the obviously right decision.
Which brings me to Eio. Ah, beautiful, Ai'oan Eio. There were strong overtones of insta-love in their relationship, but I must admit parts of it left me breathless. (I'm sentimental. Sue me.) There is a lot of gorgeous poetry in Khoury’s writing when she’s dealing with Eio and his people and the magic of the jungle, even though I always get nervous when books deal with that “white girl finds acceptance in a tribe full of brown people, who are more in touch with the earth and know the simple miracles of life and can paint with all the colors of the wind and que que natura you will understand” and such. This came dangerously close to that, but since Eio and Ami to some extent were fully fleshed-out characters, the pitfall was avoided. Mostly. Somewhat. Maybe not.
Though honestly, through a lot of the jungle scenes I had Tarzan playing full blast in my head.

Come with me now to see my world

Where there’s beauty beyond your dreams

Can you feel the things I feel right now with you?

Take my hand, there’s a world I need to knoooooooooow!

Which. You know. Is not a bad thing. I always appreciate a good Disney earworm.


My love for Eio dimmed the slightest bit when he said this:

""I will take you back," he repeats in a firmer tone. "It's not good for a woman to walk alone in the jungle without a man to protect her.

AHHH MY BELOVED EIO NOOO JUST BECAUSE YOU WERE RAISED IN THE JUNGLE AND WIELD A SPEAR AND HAVE WARPAINT ON YOUR FACE DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE A SAVAGE. Please met me love you and let us have no more of this sexist, vaguely racist nonsense, okay? Great.

Also: did any other children of the nineties out there grow up watching Jungle 2 Jungle? Because Eio is totally Mimi-Siku, aka the love of my life when I was eight. ETA: I read some of the other reviews on Goodreads and saw I was not the first person to make this observation. THIS JUST PROVES HOW TRUE IT IS and how brilliant that movie is ("Lipo Lipo! So good they name it twice!")

Also known as the werewolf in Being Human, just so's you know.
Plotwise, I felt the beginning and the middle were slow, though the middle had a lot of Eio and some serious conflict, which, you know, hot boys + mega problems + big choices = happy Gillian. But the last part, when all the horrible, frightening puzzle pieces began clicking into place, was when things really took off. I found myself blazing through the pages then.
I really loved Khoury’s prose style. I felt it captured the dichotomy of Pia pretty well. The occasionally stilted word choice, which at first threw me, embodies her scientist side, whereas the lush, vivid descriptions and imagery embodied her “wild” side. I also liked the thoughts this book put in my head. It’s nice when a book gives a swift kick to stalled engine that is my overtaxed brain and gets it chugging again. I can also tell a lot of research when into this book, and I felt like a learned a lot, which is another thing I like.

WARNING TO ANIMAL LOVERS (like me): there is a TRAUMATIC ANIMAL DEATH SCENE that made me actually sob. It came out of NOWHERE and it was SO HORRIBLE and oh God the pain whywhywhy.

Oh, yeah, and there’s also a scene with a motherfreakin’ beetle the size of A HUMAN HAND and do not Google the titan beetle unless you want nightmares for the rest of your days, is what I’m saying.
Also: ALAI THE JAGUAR. ALAI THE JAGUAR IS THE BEST CHARACTER IN THE WHOLE BOOK AND I WANT ONE. I WANT ONE NOW. People would never mess with me if I had a pet jaguar. “Oh yeah? You don’t like the fact that I just took the last brownie? TELL IT TO MY JAGUAR, TOUGH GUY.”

Also apparently the theme of this review was Disney movies. Again, I have no problem with this.


  1. Ha, love the review, Gillian! Even though it wasn't delivered as amazing as the concept, it stills sounds like a great book. I love the Disney references too. The animal dying part though? I think I will have to be in a separate room while reading this book so that when it comes out of nowhere, I can cry unashamed.

    Sunny @ Blue Sky Bookshelf

  2. This one sounds so good! I have heard mostly good things about it and I liked your review a lot! Guess I should jump on that band wagon at some point!

  3. Oh, Gillian, another awesome review from you! You can make me want to read a dang phone book if you made a review of one ;-) My favorite line is...“Oh yeah? You don’t like the fact that I just took the last brownie? TELL IT TO MY JAGUAR, TOUGH GUY.” Made me laugh hard!


  4. Haha I loved the jaguar too! <3 Overall I gave this book 3.5 stars when I read it. The concept was awesome, but the insta-love was a turn off and I also had a few pacing issues like you. Lovely and hilarious review as always, Gillian <3


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