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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson

Title: The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Reviewed Format: hard cover
Release Date: April 29, 2008
Pages: 272

Jenna Fox has just woken from a year-long coma.  She can recall facts about history and recite verbatim lines from Walden, but she can’t remember anything about who she is.  When her mother gives Jenna a stack of DVDs documenting the 16 years leading up to her coma, she sits down to watch.  What she can’t figure out is: why was she in a coma? Why does her grandmother hate her so much? And why does she walk funny?

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is a YA dystopian novel that has all the usual tropes: threat of agricultural integrity (engineered crops vs. natural ones), development of super bugs due to vaccines and over-medication, heavy use of biotechnology, an incredibly devastating--natural--disaster (California had a really bad earthquake), and an angry teenager. To temper the elements that are out of control or have gotten to that point, Pearson introduces Lily, Jenna’s grandmother and a devout Catholic. I don’t normally like the inclusion of religion in the fiction I read (too easily it borders on proselytizing), but here it fuels Lily’s emotional and spiritual motivations and behavior toward Jenna.  There is also Allys, a friend Jenna makes in charter school who battles the political and social side of the science that has become quite personal for Lily.

Jenna is all too analytical and blunt as the novel opens.  The prose mimics her learning in sharp, precise sentences and phrases punctuated with dictionary definitions that span the spectrum of meaning.  One of the most poignant is Jenna’s discovery of the word lost: “She is afraid I will get lost.  Lost adj. 1. No longer known. 2.  Unable to find the way.  3. Ruined or destroyed.  I am afraid I already am” (p. 18).  The first part of the book was difficult for me to get through because of Jenna’s scientific approach to gestures, language, and behavior--social cues we take for granted she had to learn all over again.  Her study of words, like the quote from above, were what saved me.  That and the humor that arose from the verbal situations she found herself in (see: “dickhead”).  Including a range of definitions was a not-so-subtle way of thrusting her struggle to the front of our concerns: how does Jenna navigate the literal with the trickiness of double-meanings that we intuit through context and experience; for all intents and purposes, Jenna has no experience.

To emphasize this was the significance she attached to little occasions or details: “When your life has had few events to occupy it, it’s amazing how a simple encounter can seem like an entire three-act play” (p. 53).  This, along with the definitions helped me sympathize with Jenna, but I was glad when the prose started picking up as she became more comfortable navigating her surroundings.  The gradual change in style reminded me of Charlie from Flowers for Algernon.  In both cases, scientific intervention (or meddling, depending on how you choose to look at it) played a large role in the process of awareness that brought Charlie greater intelligence and Jenna--well, I won’t spoil that. You’ll have to read the book to find out. But I did sympathize with her, and was as impressed with the intellect of the book as I was with the pathos.

It’s engrossing, so engrossing you won’t want to put it down.  In fact, I didn’t and finished it in one day.  The only bad thing is, it’s so short!  What Pearson does in 272 pages, though, is amazing.  She brings up questions of ethics and contemplates what makes us human.  What gives us life? Can humanity really be regulated by the Federal Science Ethics Board, is it a measurable part of our brain, our bodies; “are the details of our lives who we are, or is it owning those details that makes the difference?” (p. 113).  To appreciate humanity, Pearson had to write about what humans appreciate: beauty, relationships, free will, passion, miracles.  The Adoration of Jenna Fox is rich and delicious--as much a celebration of life as it is an examination of what makes life.  It’s an explosion of the deepest sentiments that drive us to the best and worst compulsions.

You know what else Mary Pearson does?  Makes up some kind of Blue Goo called Bio Gel that we of the Star Wars nerd variety know fondly as bacta. ;)

While I may have been caught up in the details in the beginning of the book, I have to remind myself: Jenna was entangled by them. The best part is, Jenna does flourish and as readers we have the best seat in the house.

How many Jawas recommend this book?

**This book was read for Calico Reaction's January Book Club at LiveJournal!**


Lily Child said...

AWESOME review Erika! You give an excellent detailed review without giving too much away! :) My review was so short b/c I was afraid of revealing anything! I am so glad you liked this book! I agree, Jenna is very analytical and scientific in the beginning, but I really believe it's part of her journey. I enjoyed her interaction with the neighbor, Lily, and of course Ethan the most. :) This book leaves you asking questions long after you finish it, which is one of my favorite things about it! :)

Erika said...

@Lily: Thank you very much! At first, I was ambivalent about writing a review. You're right--it was so hard to approach writing about this book without revealing spoilers and I thought, if I'm going to discuss it in the book club, why bother reviewing it anyway? But as I thought about the questions or points I wanted to bring up, I found a way to talk about it without giving anything away. Phew!

And yes, I do agree: her analytics were part of her journey--it was just a little harder for me to get through than I thought it'd be. :) Ethan was one of my favorites, too!

Anonymous said...

Alright, I've been bullied into it by you, Lily, and Calico. It's time for me to find this book. D:

Erika said...

@TJ: It was only a matter of time. ;)

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