Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
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really liked it
bookshelves: ya, sci-fi, speculative-fiction, 2009

** spoiler alert ** Jenna is the miracle child, her parents' angel, the perfect child who excels while inside she silently protests, only to show minor rebellions at sixteen. After a horrific accident and a year in a coma, Jenna wakes in an old house in another state, with no memory of herself or what happened. She recovers quickly, but wonders endlessly about who she is. There is only her mother and her grandmother, Lily, in the big old house that they moved to from Boston, and Lily doesn't seem to like her at all. She speaks of Jenna like she's another person, somewhere else.

As Jenna navigates her way through the act of living, watching old movies of Jenna growing up while snippets of memory slowly surface, her questions only grow. Why can't she walk properly, why don't her hands interlace? Why is the scar under her chin missing? Why is her mother so frightened, so controlling? Why must she hide from the world?

The truth is staggering and frightening: her entire body is synthetic, and only ten per cent of her brain is from the pre-accident Jenna. She a lab project of her father's, a billionaire doctor who invented Bio Gel, in which organs can be housed indefinitely if kept at the right temperature. Too cold and Jenna will expire. Kept at a moderate temperature, and she could live hundreds of years, never visibly ageing. The implications are profound. Is she the real Jenna? Is ten per cent enough? Was she ever enough for her parents? Is it even ethical for her to be alive? And what makes Jenna dangerous is the fact that she's illegal, and shouldn't even exist.

The book is set sometime in the not-too-distant future. There are several important issues raised by this book, ethical issues that are worth debating and have no conclusive answer. Questions such as: if you have the means to prolong someone's life, should you? Is it right to live beyond what nature decreed? Should people have access to medical technology that will keep them alive simply because the technology exists and you can afford it? And, what makes us human? How much is enough?

Told in Jenna's voice, it is very interesting to see the world through her eyes as she learns to decipher people's expressions, to think beyond her own needs, to realise what's missing as much as what's there - things that make us human, perhaps. In the era of cloning debates, The Adoration of Jenna Fox is highly pertinent. Aside from the issues it explores and the questions it raises, though, is the simple way it is written. The evolution of Jenna from non-entity to an individual, unique being is a joy to read. Pearson has managed admirably a very ambitious task, and quite subtly too. Even all the questions didn't annoy me, because they were necessary questions and necessary to understand Jenna.

It's also perfect that this book is written for Young Adults, because it's very much the age where we ponder our subjectivity, wonder why we were born inside this body, with this mind and all that comes with it, what makes us unique and so on. Not that we necessarily stop, but perhaps after a while we take it for granted.

It also explores the problematic issue of parental love, of pleasing loving parents at the expense of yourself, of striving to be perfect for them, and living simply because they couldn't let you go. The title of the book speaks to this. Granted, it's an extreme case, but it certainly pervades society no matter how it is expressed. Jenna's parents couldn't let her go, their miracle child, and they made her more perfect than she was before. She's a more acceptable height now that she's two inches shorter. Her scar has gone. Her skin is flawless. It speaks to the ethical issue of Designer Babies, embryos that can be made to grow into more athletic people, or smarter or more beautiful. I remember it was big in the news a few years ago, mostly in the US.

After a slow start (where it helped that I knew more than Jenna did, though it's not the best way to read this book I think), the story gets really interesting. Although you could say the author has an agenda, but like in McNaughton's The Secret Under My Skin, it is smoothly integrated into the story, it gives structure and meaning to the story, and it doesn't necessarily tell you what to think.

Which brings me to my main complaint: the ending. I thought that, after setting up such an explosive premise, the ending was abrupt and disappointing. Pearson could have done so much more with it, and the epilogue does lean towards an answer to the ethical questions mentioned above, without properly examining it. It also didn't really make sense, and contradicted itself in what it was saying and how. It's hard to explain without giving it away, but it was as if Jenna got to a point where not just her body but her mind stopped changing and developing. The epilogue was badly written, sudden, and spoiled all the lovely speculation up to that point by presenting an easy resolution. A shame, after such a promising book, to end it that way.
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Reading Progress

December 24, 2008 – Shelved
December 24, 2008 – Shelved as: ya
Started Reading
February 1, 2009 – Shelved as: sci-fi
February 1, 2009 – Shelved as: speculative-fiction
February 1, 2009 – Shelved as: 2009
February 1, 2009 – Finished Reading

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