Review: Origin by Jessica Khoury (@jkbibliophile @PenguinTeen)

I was super excited when I won a contest hosted on Jessica Khoury’s blog to win an advance copy of her debut novel, Origin. Unfortunately, I was a dork and wasn’t able to actually read it before it was released, but I finally managed to squeeze it in over the weekend, and I’m glad I did!

The Plot (from Goodreads)

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.

My Thoughts

Origin was a refreshingly new take on the YA immortality archetype. For one thing, the girl was the immortal one (for some reason, it always feels like it’s the other way around). And for another, there was nothing supernatural about it (unless you consider the flower that is the basis of the immortality compound to be supernatural…which I don’t). It’s all science. Although the book doesn’t have a big sci-fi feel; it feels more like a mystery/adventure/romance.

Pia was a great protagonist. The immortality and her extremely sheltered childhood, in addition to her super-fast reflexes and superhuman stamina, could have made her hard to relate to, but her emotions felt real and tangible. I really understood her inner struggle between wanting to stay in the scientific environment in which she was raised and wanting to run into the unknown of the jungle with Eio. Her relationship with Eio is a bit insta-lovey, and I wasn’t sure if I’d go for it, but given her cloistered upbringing, I think it was actually realistic. She’s never been around another kid her age before, much less an attractive boy who’s showing her all manner of new things. Of course she falls hard and fast.

As for the other characters, I liked how varied they were, and that there was no “evil for the sake of evil” bad guy. Even the villains had motivations that they felt were noble, and I found that fascinating. Yes, they do some things that I found terrible, but they thought they were doing the right thing. Stories are always more interesting when that happens. And I loved the “good” characters, particularly Harriet and Antonio. They were both heavily flawed and made some huge mistakes, but I really enjoyed how they were developed.

From about the middle of the book on, I couldn’t put it down. The pacing was great and kept me riveted all the way through to the end (which, by the way, is the end for real, as Origin is a standalone novel). And while I’ve read enough sci-fi in my life to have been able to predict the twists at the end, I still really enjoyed watching them unfold. The jungle setting was a great change of pace (I don’t think I’ve read a book set in the rainforest since Michael Crichton’s Congo, which I read in the early ’90s), and her descriptions of the plants and wildlife were lush and vivid.

The only complaint I have about the book is that the beginning was a little slow. While I was engrossed from the middle on, I wasn’t totally into it from the beginning. I was interested, and I found it enjoyable, but it wasn’t really a can’t-stop-reading book for the first several chapters.

But overall, I think Origin is an exciting, original book with great characters and a fabulous setting. The engaging plot kept me intrigued right up through the breathtaking, bittersweet ending. I’d recommend you check it out!

Content guide: Contains a couple instances of mild language, disturbing animal experimentation, some violence.