Book Talk: The Adoration of Jenna Fox9:00:00 PM
I ended up listening to this book in chunks, which isn't my favorite way to listen to a book. I really only like to listen to books in the car, when I know I am going to have uninterrupted time, otherwise I just end up really distracted and don't retain as much of the story as I would like. That said, I was glad that I chose this book, because the reality is I wouldn't have had time to read the book otherwise (at least, not at the time).
I thought the premise of The Adoration of Jenna Fox was incredible and really unique. It surprised me that as a YA book, it dealt with so many profound issues that don't necessarily get addressed often in YA literature.
When the book begins, Jenna Fox, teenage daughter of a millionaire medical tycoon, has been in a horrific car accident and nearly dies. Jenna wakes from a coma with the realization that she remembers nothing about her life before the accident. As time goes on, however, Jenna begins to piece together her memories and discover what happened to her. She discovers that something was done to her, something that explains why she doesn't quite feel like herself. What she discovers, and the questions that are asked as a result of that realization, is completely fascinating. And this is where I delve into spoiler territory, because it's incredibly difficult to talk about this book without revealing some major plot points. While I'm not going to give it all away, if that's something you're concerned about, I'd say READ IT. Definitely read it. And then come back so we can chat.
Jenna's realization is this - her body isn't actually her body. It's a replacement, built from scratch for her around the 10% of her that was salvaged from her accident. As a result, she - and the readers - have to grapple with a number of questions. If she died, but is living again - is she really alive? Does she have a soul? Is 10% enough of a person to make someone human, in spite of the fact that they have been built and not born?
But this isn't all. After confronting her parents about her realization, Jenna also realizes that she is illegal. Because science and medicine have become so advanced, our future society has an ethics board, set up to determine how much medical care is ethically and financially responsible and how many resources can be put into saving one life. In this future world, almost anything is possible, but just because you can, does it mean that you should? That is the question at the heart of this novel, and it's not one with an easy answer. In saving their child, Jenna's parents have gone way beyond what is allowed, essentially making her existence illegal. They save her, but the question that gets asked is: at what cost?
As a result, the book also explores the idea of what it means to leave your past behind. Some of Jenna's encounters with other characters are interesting, particularly with Mr. Bender, who has some experience in the area of leaving an old identity behind - the reality of what that means and how difficult that can truly be for a person. It felt natural and interesting to explore what he and Jenna have in common without feeling like they were exploiting his presence in the book to further the story.
Mary E. Pearson does an incredible job of exploring complex questions through Jenna's seventeen year old perspective (Jenna's lack of control over her own life being a really resonant theme of the novel) but while also keeping things really well rounded. Although she was not the narrator, she gave an interview at the end of the audiobook talking about the novel's origin story and where the idea came from. She explains that the idea began when one of her daughters was diagnosed with cancer. Horrified and devastated, she witnessed not only her own child going through treatment, but other parents and other children going through the same experiences - sometimes worse. She began thinking about what a parent would be willing to do to save their child. What they would do to protect them, even if that meant doing something illegal. Even if it meant giving up their old life. Even if it meant irrevocably changing the person they were trying to save.
Pearson speaks in the interview about how she connects a great deal with Claire, Jenna's mother, for obvious reasons. Claire is a stunningly complex character: someone who loves her daughter and would do anything for her, but who Jenna's perceives as a stifling and suffocating presence. This is almost as much Claire's story as it is Jenna's - an exploration of the love parents have for their children, and their willingness to do whatever it takes to protect them. Claire is controlling and manipulative and deceptive. And while she argues that she does what she does to protect Jenna, we see that Jenna deserves and desires autonomy over her body and her life. Her existence is not a fate she ever chose or would have wanted for herself, and she must grapple with the idea that while she loves her parents, she also hates them for what they've done.
There are so many nuances and questions and amazing ideas and issues that are addressed in this book - it's completely fascinating. Her encounters with Dane in particular are really interesting. Jenna is extraordinarily perceptive in her new life, and quickly discerns what others say about him: that he is "missing something" - like a soul. There is a glaring lack of humanity in his character, which provides a lot of great interactions between him and Jenna. Their conversations spark a really interesting conversation about the idea that while Jenna is not human, or not 100% human, she has more humanity in her than Dane will ever have.
Pearson does an incredible job of world building and really developing this narrative and saying that this is not just a story about Jenna, but about her family and her friends, and the world that she lives in. Asking what would it be like to exist in a world where you have to live with the consequences of the previous generations' mistakes and downfalls - for better or for worse - and while there are all these amazing things that come out of the medical advancements of the future, there is also a necessity to contend with the consequences of what we are doing to the world, and how that will affect the people who will live in it after we are no longer here.
I think it pretty much goes without saying that if you're in the market for a new YA novel or even just a good sci-fi read, I would highly recommend you check this one out - I'm glad I did.