Jennifer Kreft's Reviews > Origin

Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber
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's review
Apr 24, 2011

really liked it
Read in April, 2011

I was pleasantly surprised by this book! Since I didn't pay much attention to the back-cover description, I assumed from the title that it was a sci-fi flick. Instead I got a fascinating study on identity featuring a unique narrator. Lena is a fingerprint analyst with a supernatural talent of identifying criminals based on the evidence they've left behind but virtually no knowledge of her own roots. Although her foster parents have kept her permanently, they've never officially adopted her and are evasive about the agency behind the arrangement. Lena has grown up with vague impressions of having been raised by apes until rescued and put up for adoption. In fact, she has an artifact from her infancy, a primitive tooth necklace, which seems to support her whimsical theory. Her dreams are haunted by lunar eyes amid a backdrop of rainforest, and although a paralyzing cold spell moves through her home base of Syracuse, NY, visions of tropical creatures skitter on the periphery of her consciousness. The frozen locale lends an atmosphere of tautness to a plot already fraught with creepiness. Lena suspects that a serial killer is behind a sudden rise in area SIDS deaths.
The elegant writing struck a chord with me and although the basic mystery was tucked in with some pretty ambitious examinations of heavy issues, I think it was handled well. There was a rather boring hospital stay that went on a bit too long for my taste, but the author deserves credit for keeping enough realism in the crime investigation to allow a bit of the action to subside. The wrap-up was amazing in that it made such a realistic connection back to Lena without resorting to sentimentalism. Reasons emerge to explain her emotional distance and make it truly forgivable. Lena is a damaged character, but readers can't help but see her inner strength by the time the murder investigation concludes.

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