Monday, December 3, 2012

The Origin of Humanity

The question is as old as time: what makes us human as opposed to animal? How have we become an elevated species? Have we accepted that responsibility with grace? In Jessica Khoury's novel Origin, we have the opportunity to explore a new immortal species and the humanity (or lack thereof) that created it.

Pia has always lived in Little Cam, a highly secret scientific community hidden deep in the Amazon Rain Forest. She was created there. Pia is the result of a discovery of a deadly but uniquely manipulated flower and a century's worth of experimentation. Scientists were able to incorporate the flower's nectar into a serum that over generations made the test subjects more and more "perfect" and eventually resulted in the perfect human being- the immortal Pia. Even her skin is impenetrable. But Pia still faces dangers. In the rain forest she could be swallowed by an anaconda and spend her immortality inside its belly, but on a larger scale, her very existence is dangerous. People would kill to get their hands on Pia and study her. 

The scientists aren't allowed to let Pia know anything about the outside world, but a girl trapped in a compound is bound to overhear information. Intensely curious about the outside world, Pia jumps on a chance to escape when a tree uproots and creates an opening in the otherwise electrified and fatal fence. Dashing through the jungle, she encounters a young native boy names Eio. Eio is everything she never knew she wanted. He is strong willed and strong in body. He is intrigued by Pia, and despite her brief visit, they can't stop thinking about one another. She knows she will be in trouble if the scientists know she found a way out, but she must see more of Eio. In her frequent visits, Pia begins to learn the scientists hid more from her than just knowledge of the outside world. When she finally learns the secret of how she was created, Pia isn't sure she can become one of them, even if her immortal life will be without a perfect, immortal mate. Because, after all, not all wonderful things are immortal... like Eio, for instance!

This was such an interesting and intriguing novel. It had all the elements you would imagine in a "created" human (think Frankenstein), but it also had so much more, like love and teenage affections. I loved how Pia was sheltered, but certainly not naive. She struggled with acceptance that the people she referred to as Uncle and Aunt were in fact cold, heartless, ruthless people, but she wasn't naive. It was a truly remarkable transformation to see her from the first time she escaped to her final experiences with scientists. This is a story that raises so many emotional and ethical questions that you could spend weeks discussing it with your students.

The writing is very clean and appropriate for a wide range of ages. I think a younger student would miss some of the more subtle or more mature concepts, such as science vs. morality and the ethics of the means justifying the end, but they will still enjoy the story. There is enough in here for a large variety of people. I am interested to see what Khoury does next, because this stand-alone novel was pretty powerful! And you will have to ask yourself, what would you sacrifice to stop your family from aging?

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