Title: The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Genre: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: April 29, 2008
Hardcover: 272 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
Summary: (from amazon.com)
Who is Jenna Fox? Seventeen-year-old Jenna has been told that is her name. She has just awoken from a coma, they tell her, and she is still recovering from a terrible accident in which she was involved a year ago. But what happened before that? Jenna doesn’t remember her life. Or does she? And are the memories really hers?
This fascinating novel represents a stunning new direction for acclaimed author Mary Pearson. Set in a near future America, it takes readers on an unforgettable journey through questions of bio-medical ethics and the nature of humanity. Mary Pearson’s vividly drawn characters and masterful writing soar to a new level of sophistication.
I used to be someone.
Someone named Jenna Fox.
That’s what they tell me. But I am more than a name. More than they tell me. More than the facts and statistics they fill my head with. More than the video clips they make me watch.
More. But I’m not sure what.
In the not-too-distant future, Jenna Fox has been lying in a coma for a full year after a tragic Accident. Upon waking up, eighteen year-old Jenna is completely disoriented and cannot remember anything–not even who she is. Her parents and grandmother have taken Jenna away from their home in Boston to a large, secluded home in California. Her parents encourage her to watch old video clips of herself, telling her that gradually her memories will start to come back. Her grandmother Lily, however, remains in the background, uncomfortable and cold towards Jenna.
A stranger in her own home and in her own skin, Jenna feels completely alone and lacking any sense of identity. She watches the vids and she tries to grasp a connection with the girl on the screen, but cannot. She never refers to the video girl as “me”; always differentiating the loved, adored, girl in the vids as “Jenna”. Gradually, flashes and fragments of Jenna’s life before the Accident filter into her memory–except her memories are strange and inexplicable. She remembers mundane things like shopping for socks, but then she also remembers things she should not be able to remember. Her parents–who have loved and adored Jenna for being their miracle baby, who have videotaped her more than any child should be videotaped, who have doted on her and who are so proud of her–are keeping a secret. And slowly, Jenna comes to realize the enormity of what it means to be herself.
More than anything The Adoration of Jenna Fox is a tale of self-discovery, both metaphorically and literally. Her family tells her who she is and how much they love her, the vids show her that Jenna was outwardly perfect–a beautiful girl, an outstanding student, a gifted ballet dancer, a good daughter and granddaughter and friend–but the new Jenna sees how much of her old life depended on what values and acceptance others gave her, not so much what she herself wanted or felt. At the same time, she struggles to reconcile her fleeting past memories with the new Jenna, and she desperately strives to make her own, valid, identity.
The novel itself is written beautifully, narrated by Jenna in the first person. Beginning with short confused, choppy chapters, Jenna’s narrative is interspliced with definitions of words, almost-poems, and questions as she tries to apply them to herself and her life. For example:
Isn’t that what all of life is anyway?
Shards. Bits. Moments.
Am I less because I have fewer, or do the few I have
Am I just as full as anyone else? Enough?
Allys saying “I like you.”
Gabriel snorting out bread, freeing me to laugh.
And Ethan reminding me how much I do know.
I hold them like they are life itself.
They nearly are.
Along with Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It, this is one of the finest first-person narrations in a young adult novel (or any genre, for that matter) that I have ever read. Jenna, though she might not know who or what she is, comes across as completely, wholly genuine. Jenna’s family is just as real and expertly written; Jenna’s mother and father, who adore their only daughter so much that they cannot possibly let her go; Jenna’s Grandmother, who disagrees, but will do anything for her own daughter (Jenna’s mother). The other characters that I loved in this novel are Ethan, the boy with a love for Thoreau and no social skills, and Allys, the passionate girl who has lost her natural limbs to global antibiotics resistance.
The (near) futuristic setting also is very nicely done–besides some plausible medical advances, things in this setting do not seem too different from today. The last polar bear has died, the second woman has been elected as president of the United States, a new planet has been discovered in our solar system. We already have video recorders that burn onto dvds and can be uploaded to our computers (“netbooks” in the novel), the internet, rudimentary nanotechnology and an established history of biotechnology. The names may be a bit different, but the concepts are very tangible–which is something I appreciate as a reader. As this novel is set in the not-so-distant future, many of these advances do not demand too great a suspension of disbelief. The plot is evenly paced with Jenna’s self questioning and her frustration with her strange body and returning fragments of memories–though the big twist is pretty easily predicted from the onset of the novel, it is still an exciting, compulsive read.
In addition to being a compelling story about a girl struggling with her sense of self and a futuristic medical drama, this novel also raises some big questions, both ethical and psychological. What does it mean to be Jenna Fox? What does it take to be human? Are we merely the sum total of our memories and experiences? This is an incredibly thought-provoking book, and I’m even more impressed by the fact that it never once comes off as preachy. Ms. Pearson raises all these intriguing ethical questions without presuming a “right” answer, and I applaud her for this beautiful, provocative novel.
I was unable to put this book down, and finished The Adoration of Jenna Fox easily in a day–though the questions the book raised and implications of the story resonated with me for much longer. Highly recommended.
Additional Thoughts: This book reminded me a lot of another young adult novel I enjoyed (many moons ago), Eva by Peter Dickinson.
Other novels that fans of The Adoration of Jenna Fox might enjoy are the aforementioned Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, and Unwind by Neal Shusterman. And, if this sort of deep ethical questioning of humanity is up your alley, I recommend you watch Battlestar Galactica.
Verdict: A gorgeous, haunting novel and one I wholeheartedly recommend. The first book I’ve read in 2009, and what a way to start the year off!
Rating: 8 Excellent
Reading Next: The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking Book 1) by Patrick Ness