6 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Origin by Jessica Khoury

Title: Origin

Author: Jessica Khoury

Genre: Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Razor Bill
Publication Date: September 2012
Hardcover: 393 Pages

An electrifying action-romance that’s as thoughtful as it is tragic

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.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel

How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher

Why did I read this book: The concept of an immortality-giving drug, derived from some mysterious plant in the Amazon, is a familiar but well-liked trope. Use this in a YA setting? I’m in.

Review:

In the heart of the Amazon rainforest, there is a scientific lab and living compound called Little Cambridge. Little Cam houses some of the world’s top scientific minds, including geneticists, biochemical engineers, botanists, and entomologists.

It also hides a girl named Pia – seventeen years old, immortal, and perfect.

The fruit of five generations of genetic experimentation and injection of a toxic, but immortality-giving extract from the rare bloom, elysia, Pia is the only one of her kind, and a scientific breakthrough that means the beginning of a new, immortal brand of humanity. Pia is the hope for humankind’s future – she has perfect memory, razor-sharp reflexes, and superhuman speed and endurance. Her skin is impervious to harm, and cannot be penetrated by any blade, flame, or trauma. Every day of Pia’s life, she has been told that she is perfect by the scientists that have raised her – yet, the thing she yearns for most of all, the right to join the Imortis Project and be embraced as a full-fledged scientist with the aim of creating a super-race of immortals like her, is still out of her reach. For all that Pia is perfect, she is not yet ready for whatever the Imortis Project entails, until she can pass a series of psychological and scientific tests.

On the eve of Pia’s eighteenth birthday, she discovers that the electric fence that surrounds Little Cam has a hole – and she does something she’s never even dreamed of doing before. Buoyed by the confidence and good spirits of her first ever birthday party, Pia sneaks through the hole and braves the jungle outside for the first time…and she runs into a boy named Eio, and discovers an entirely new world. As she learns more about Eio and his tribe, the Ai’oa, Pia’s view of her destiny changes, irrevocably. At what cost does immortality come? And is Pia ready to pay the price for eternity?

The debut novel from an astonishingly young new author, Origin simultaneously succeeds and fails. There is no doubt that Jessica Khoury has a gift for writing and storytelling, as Origin is a compulsively readable and entertaining book. The novel begins on a high note, as we are introduced to our young immortal, impervious Pia: a perfect girl of “astonishing beauty” (as she is described by one character), whose very existence is the fruit of careful genetic selection and breeding for five consecutive generations. Pia is told, repeatedly, by almost everyone she knows, that she is perfect, and as such, she believes herself to be perfect. She’s spoiled, self-entitled, and, well, bratty – especially to a perky new doctor that arrives on the scene, shortly before her eighteenth birthday. This initial characterization is immensely believable and well executed by Khoury – you can’t help but feel exasperated with Pia’s ingrained snobbery, but it rings as wholly genuine at the same time. When Pia chooses to escape the world of Little Cam – which has, for all intents and purposes, been a Pia-centered paradise as far as she is concerned – her world view radically changes, and she is challenged for the first time by her discovery of a boy named Eio and his tribe, the Ai’oa. This, unfortunately, is where the story slightly goes off the rails.

But before we get to the negatives, the positives. On the plus side, I love Pia’s dedication to science, and her devotion to fulfilling her destiny by creating a race of immortals. After all, this is the goal to which she’s been attuned her entire life, and the prospect of eternity alone is certainly no fun. There’s a palpable tension throughout Origin, and Pia’s struggle to reconcile her predetermined path with her own emotions is exceptionally well done. The small, insular world of Little Cam and all that Pia knows feels real; the obsession of the scientists that have raised her (and the inevitable dark secrets they guard) are also genuinely engaging. Ultimately, Origin kinda reads like a super-hyperbolized metaphor for overprotected you girl, growing up and breaking free of the constraints imposed on her by elders that are acting in her best interest…sort of. (Of course, this particular young girl is immortal and incandescently beautiful, so the actual applicability of said metaphor – or, more tritely, self-insertionism – is dubious at best.)

Praises said, Origin is not without some significant flaws. From a basic worldbuilding perspective, Origin is shaky, stumbling especially in its later chapters. This novel suffers from a problem of simplification and dichotomization – in Origin, this divide is (predictably) between SCIENCE and MORALITY. SCIENCE is presented initially as Pia’s God and creed: she has never heard music with lyrics, she has never read a novel (nor has she heard of the likes of Shakespeare or Plato), she has no knowledge of the world outside Little Cam. She does know the genus and species of all the plants and animals that surround her in the jungle, she can perform large mathematical sums in her head (though the bulk of this prowess is limited to multiplication, for whatever reason), and…she can sketch flowers pretty quickly (seriously).1 SCIENCE, of course, is revealed to be very, very bad, and Pia’s immortality comes at the cost of countless lives – from the scientists who were forced to overcome their own moral compasses, and the blood literally shed to birth Pia.

By contrast, Eio and the Ai’oa (and a couple select scientists) are the counterpoint of MORALITY in the novel. The Ai’oa are rainforest NATIVES, and as such understand their immortality-giving flower better than the scientists ever could, and they teach Pia what it is to be a normal girl, to love, and to live. There’s also a disturbing, continuing reference to the “natives” as being “ignorant,” to the point where Eio (who is half-Ai’oan) repeatedly assets that he is not like his “ignorant” bretheren (i.e. “I know what electricity is…I am not an ignorant Ai’oan, Papi! Half of me belongs here in the jungle, yes, but half of me belongs on the other side of that fence with you and Pia!”).

And, speaking of Eio, there’s the romance. OF COURSE when Pia slips out of Little Cam for the first time, the very first boy she runs into is Staggeringly Gorgeous. OF COURSE he also is half-caucasian, with striking blue eyes, chiseled features, standing head and shoulders above his Ai’oan village-mates (of course, to the Ai’oans, he is UGLY as is Pia). OF COURSE, Pia and Eio fall in insta-love – and the reason why? As Eio tells Pia, the first night he meets her:

“I lied when I said you were ugly. It is not true. You…”

He scrubs at his hair, and his discomfort makes me smile.

“You are in fact very beautiful. More beautiful than any girl I know.”

And then later:

“Ever since the moment you first knocked me over, then shone your stupid flashlight in my eyes and set your jaguar on me. I was angry, but mostly because I was terrified.”

“Am I really that scary?”

“Your beauty is,” he whispers.

Cue excessive eye-rolling.2 While it makes sense that Pia (and to some extent, Eio) is stunningly gorgeous – the progeny of generations of hand-selected beautiful people – the impetus for this Great Romance, based solely on the attractiveness of Pia and Eio, is a little silly, and a little insulting of readers’ intelligence.

Beyond these factors, consistency issues abound – Pia speaks in common slang and knows curses (e.g. she tells one character to screw himself at one point, she makes an internal joke about “going native” at another), but has never been around others who speak as such, nor has ever read a non-scientific book/seen a film before. The “science” in the later portion of the novel – the purpose of the tests that Pia has endured, the truth of the power of elysia and its catalyzing agent – are patently ridiculous, moving the book from dubious genetic possibility to complete science fantasy.

And yet. For all of these flaws, I finished the book and I generally enjoyed myself, in a guilty pleasure, I-shouldn’t-like-this-as-much-as-I-do kind of way. As long as one approaches the novel understanding that there are copious amounts of cheese and ridiculousness, there’s something compulsively well-paced and guiltily engaging about Origin. Recommended, but leave expectations at the door.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:

I’m told that the day I was born, Uncle Paolo held me against his white lab coat and whispered, “She is perfect.” Sixteen years later, they’re still repeating the word. Every day I hear it, from the scientists or the guards, from my mother or from my Aunt Brigid. Perfect.

They say other things too. That there are no others like me, at least not yet. That I am the pinnacle of mankind, a goddess born of mortal flesh. You are immortal, Pia, and you are perfect, they say.

But as I follow Uncle Paolo to the laboratory, my bootlaces trailing in the mud and my hands clutching a struggling sparrow, the last thing I feel is perfect.

Outside the compound, the jungle is more restless than usual. The wind, lightly scented with orchids, prowls through the kapoks and palms as if searching for something it lost. The air is so damp that drops of water appear, almost magically, on my skin and on Uncle Paolo’s pepper-gray hair. When we pass through the garden, the heavy-hanging passionflowers and spiky heliconias brush against my legs, depositing dew onto the tops of my boots. Water is everywhere, just like every other day in the rainforest. But today it feels colder—less refreshing and more invasive.

Today is a testing day. They are called the Wickham tests, and they only come every few months, often by surprise. When I awoke in my glass-walled bedroom this morning, I expected the usual: reciting genus and species lists to Uncle Antonio, comparing algae specimens under microscopes with Uncle Jakob, followed, perhaps, by a long swim in the pool. But instead, I was greeted by Mother, who informed me that Uncle Paolo had decided to hold a test. She then breezed out the door and left me scrambling to get ready. I didn’t even have a chance to tie my shoelaces.

Hardly ten minutes later, here I am.

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

Additional Thoughts: Make sure to check out our stop on the official Origin blog tour for a chance to read about Jessica Khoury’s Inspirations and Influences, plus a chance to win the book.

Rating: 6 – Diverting, and recommended with some sizable reservations

Reading Next: Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis

Buy the Book: (click on the links to purchase)


Ebook available for kindle US, nook, google & apple

  1. On a serious note, other than Pia’s ididic memory and her ability to withstand sharp objects penetrating her skin, her skillset as an immortal heroine is somewhat disappointing.
  2. It doesn’t help that these characters are named Pia and Eio. When I read “Eio,” I think Michael Jackson’s version at Disneyland – which is infinitely more awesome than our love-struck jungle boy, who seems tohave no character or purpose, other than to wait around for Pia.

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19 Comments

  • Emily's Reading Room
    August 27, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I was particularly bugged by the science vs. morality trope. I’m just so bored of it. Science and morality can and do co-exist hand in hand. I’m glad you enjoyed it, I found myself slogging through at the end to get the credit for my goodreads challenge.

  • Phoebe
    August 27, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Great review. Agree completely!

  • Sofie
    August 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Thanks for the review, Thea, but this is one I have to pass on.

    Apart from the issues you mentioned, which would have me eye-rolling like I’m 14, I have serious problems with the beauty = white (read light eyes, light skin, non-ethnic features)view.

    I’m so tired of authors setting their stories in “exotic” locations only to have the H/H be magically non-native. Even in the middle of the Amazon the hero has to be blue eyed, taller, smarter than the natives? So what features did he get from his other half? The ones that add “exotic” hotness to the mix? Why couldn’t he be fully native? Does full native imply automatic ugliness? Why does his tribe find him ugly? They can find him different without it having to be ugly. What does Pia, the perfect specimen, look like? If he is ugly to his tribe wouldn’t he see himself as ugly and as a result her as well? Or is he so evolved that low self-esteem is not in his makeup? And if she’s never been introduced to pop culture and he lives with his tribe in the Amazon where do their standards of beauty come from?

    I can keep going, but I’m annoying myself at this point. 😳 You see, major issues for me.

  • Thea
    August 27, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Emily – Yep, I hear ya. Not that the classic Science x Morality trope is necessarily a bad one, it’s just so very tired, and not particularly fleshed out in any interesting way here. I can understand your frustration! And as for the ending…I hear you, but I enjoyed myself. For me, it felt like one insane revelation after another, and I couldn’t help but be thoroughly entertained by the ridiculousness! I can definitely see why you might not have been as impressed though.

    Phoebe – Huzzah! Agreement, FTW!

    Sofie – You know, I completely hear you and respect where you are coming from. There is NOTHING that annoys me more than the beauty = white function, especially in novels set in locations featuring non-white characters or cultures.

    With regard to Origin and Eio being half-caucasian, however, there *is* a reason in the text that gives reason to his “intimidating beauty” and provides an alternative implication to the book. It turns out that Eio is the son of one of the scientists in Little Cam, and this particular scientist has been, like Pia, the product of a few generations of careful selection and breeding for beauty and intelligence. Supposedly. (This said, it’s perhaps a little too convenient, isn’t it? Why can’t we have a fully PoC cast of characters? WHY must we have qualifiers like, she was a beautiful Asian girl with BLUE EYES making her all the more beautiful and special? GRRRR.)

    I agree that there are many, many frustrating things about this type of profiling. And I don’t blame you for wanting to pass on this novel based on this.

    (To answer your question about Pia’s appearance – she is pale skinned, with long dark hair and blue-green eyes. Regarding the standards of beauty, I do think to Jessica Khoury’s credit she tries to show an alternative – that to Ai’oans, foreigners like Pia and her scientists are ugly, representing a different interpretation of beauty and image. I just don’t quite believe it is executed that well or is particularly believable, given how many times we are told that Eio and Pia are stunningly gorgeous.)

  • Sofie
    August 27, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Thank you for the clarification, Thea. I’m going to go add The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron to my TBR list. I enjoyed the reviews from you and Ana so I’m trying it out. Thanks, again. 😀

  • Meg
    August 27, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    I am not paying for anything where science is the bad guy. I hate the anti science movement- Ugh.

    and they idea that nature is benign- really – tell it to New Orleans….

    To simple

  • Stephanie Sinclair
    August 29, 2012 at 8:49 am

    This is an excellent review. I ended up really enjoying Origin despite agreeing with both your review and Phoebe’s from Intergalactic Academy. There is something fascinating about this story that had me turning page after page.

  • Allison reviews Origin by Jessica Khoury
    September 2, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    […] Other Reviews of Origin by Jessica Khoury: The Book Smugglers — “there’s something compulsively well-paced and guiltily engaging about Origin…” […]

  • AnimeJune
    September 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    I pretty much had the exact same reaction, and my review’s up now.

    And Eio’s not that smart – I lost all hope for him in the scene where he repeatedly fries himself trying to “prove his passionate love” to Pia by trying to climb an electric fence.

    AND YOU MADE IT ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE REVIEW WITHOUT MENTIONING THE MAN-EATING ANTS. I salute you!

  • Origin by Jessica Khoury - Review - HOBBITSIES
    September 10, 2012 at 6:30 am

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  • Kika Korregate
    March 22, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    IT IS IN A SERIES!!! The next book is called virto or something…

  • Kika Korregate
    March 22, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    but you know, hater’s gonna hate. I thought it was pretty good, Using it for my book report.

  • Savannah
    March 23, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    I agree with you for the most part, but just wanted to point out that it’s the night of her seventeenth birthday that the storm hits and makes the hole in the fence. (Also very excited to have found this site. I will be definitely subscribing to the newsletter!)

  • sucks
    January 29, 2016 at 9:28 am

    this book sucked

  • Anonymous
    May 10, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    ‘;

  • Anonymous
    October 19, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    I loved this book so much! You did an amazing job on this. I am using this book for my project on realistic\science fiction and reading the book excited me a lot.

  • AMAZING
    October 19, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH! I’ve read it like 5 times!

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    October 10, 2017 at 3:51 am

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  • Anonymous
    November 9, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    wow

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