Why did I read it: Lately I’ve been trying to read books that I can use as recommendations or suggestions for teen readers. The premise for this one sounded really neat, and I was really happy when I was able to get an e-galley.
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 is a supremely compelling debut novel that blends the awakening romance of Matched with the mystery and jungle conspiracy of Lost.
Review: Despite a strong start and a compelling female lead, Origin really fell flat for me.
I think what makes this review rough is how much I wanted to love this book and gush about it. When I first started Origin, I couldn’t put it down. I felt like the first few chapters of the book were excellent, and I devoured them quickly. I really liked the writing and I found myself caring for Pia quite easily. She was believable, fragile in many ways, sheltered in others, and yet strong with many convictions about science and her role within that field. I loved that science mattered to her in a way that seemed organic and refreshing. It gave me a lot of hope for what would happen later on in the book because right away I really wanted to get to know her more and watch her grow up by spending time away from Little Cam and learning more about the world she’d been kept away from. The suspense and the conspiracy taking place around her were both engaging and even occasionally horrifying.
However, as the story progressed, Origin became less and less about a teenage girl figuring herself out and changing her life by allowing herself the freedom of living outside of the literal and figurative cage others had built for her. Instead it became more and more about a teenage girl falling in love and then finding out everyone else over the age of 18 is evil or ineffective in damaging ways but that ultimately not mattering due to the power of falling in love with the first person she meets who isn’t directly connected to Little Cam. Her major hardships became not only finding her place and figuring out who she wants to be but how horrible it is that she’ll live forever and her random new boyfriend she just met will not. She can’t even give her animal friend the time of day, and immediately stops enjoying science because she has met a boy and she’s learned that science is evil. The shift in her priorities made me grind my teeth, but the fact that suddenly every scientist was either a complete and utter fool more likely to betray than aid or an evil monster out to destroy everything good in life including sacred sections of the rainforest made me want to figure out some means of hurling my electronic copy across the room.
This isn’t to say that any and all the positives went away or that later chapters didn’t provide me with some reasons to keep reading. I was thankful that Pia felt a connection to the tribe she met in addition to Eio, and I liked most of the reveals towards the end of the book. But I have to be honest. I cannot ignore the difficulties I had with the way in which the plot’s importance and story’s strength were greatly diminished by a lack-luster, cliché romance as well as the predictable themes of special white person finding a special tribe of non-white people to belong to where they are accepted unconditionally because of mystical insight, and science being the evilest evil thing to ever evil because the book took place in the Amazon.
In conclusion, a frustrating read with an enormous potential that is never fully realized and several offensive aspects that made me quite uncomfortable. I cannot even begin to articulate how truly great I think this book would have been if it had gone off in a more original direction, relied less on outdated stereotypes for characters, and incorporated several shades of grey in terms of morality. Would I give something written by Jessica Khoury a try in the future? Yes. I would definitely give her next work a shot. Would I recommend this book to others? No. Not at all.
How I would rate it: 2 out of 5 stars.