At almost seventeen years old, Pia is not unlike any other seventeen year old. Her memory is perfect. Her senses and ability to perceive the world around her is perfect. Her immune system is perfect. Pia herself is perfect, because she is immortal.
Raised in an obscure part of the Amazon jungle, Pia’s only knowledge of world is contained in the tiny fenced-in village called Little Cam that she has inhabited since she was born. Everything she knows about the world (or lack of it) has been fed to her by her family of scientists, who are training Pia to join their number in order to create more immortals like Pia.
But that all changes one day when Pia escapes beyond the fence to the jungle outside of it. It is there she meets Eio, a local villager, who causes Pia to question everything about her life and the reason for her existence. As Pia begins to fall in love with Eio, she begins to question whether she can throw away her dream of living forever with those like her for just a few moments of stolen bliss…
Unlike most people, I heard of the author of Origin before I heard of the book. I actually stumbled upon Jessica Khoury’s blog during one of my research attempts at figuring out how long a typical YA book could be (answer: quite long these days). It was here that I started scrolling through Khoury’s posts on writing, the process of finding an agent, and then good news of getting a publisher for her book. As I followed 22 year old Khoury’s blog, I started to feel a connection to her, as I too was (and still am) struggling through the process of getting my work published. When I saw news of her finding an agent, and then finding a publisher, I was actually overjoyed, since by reading Khoury’s blog, I felt like I knew her.
Fast-forward a few months before the publication of Origin. Some of the reviews on Goodreads weren’t very positive, and I was a bit disappointed, since I had been quite looking forward to it. But I still put it on hold at my library, and was overjoyed when I got it only a week or so after it’s publication, and was even more overjoyed when I finally finished reading it. Cause I loved it.
My favourite part of Origin has definitely got to be Pia. Oh, Pia, how I love you! Let me count the ways… First of all, she isn’t a sad, sorry excuse for a female protagonist, like SO many of the heroines in YA lit these days. She is sheltered, because of the way she has been brought up by the scientists in Little Cam, but living inside a fenced village does nothing to dispel her curiosity about what’s happening both inside and outside Little Cam.
Pia does not shy away from difficult choices, and it is the decisions that she makes when faced with these choices that set her apart from others her own age. Having grown up around adults only makes her more mature in terms of her intellect and her career aspirations, but there’s still a part of her that maintains that youthful innocence, and it’s this dichotomy of perfection and imperfection that makes Pia such a compelling heroine.
The love story was something that made me wary when I first read about it on the cover copy, since it seemed to be doomed from the very start in a immortal-Edward-and-mortal-Bella way, but Khoury handled it very nicely. Yes, Pia is immortal, and Eio is mortal, but their relationship was very sweet and fresh. There was none of that insta-love, that, again, is very popular these days, but instead Pia’s interest in Eio slowly simmers to curiosity, then it bubbles to attraction, and then finally boils into love. It was very wholesome and pure. While the barrier of immortality does exist between the pair, it never felt tiresome or overdone. Instead, it is a real barrier as Pia grapples constantly with the fact that Eio will one day die, and she never will.
The world that Khoury created of both the Amazon forest and the village of Little Cam felt extremely real to me. The smells, tastes, and sights of this world were very convincingly described in lush imagery and clear words. I felt like I was right there in Pia’s world with her, hearing the sounds of monkeys, smelling the fresh wildflowers, and seeing the all-too bright colours of the rain forest around her. It was just so different from anything I’ve encountered recently, and that’s one of the reasons why I loved it.
And at the core of it are questions of life and death, and the bigger question of eternal life and who deserves to live it. Khoury addresses these questions throughout the book, thus making the story not just about Pia and her life’s choices, but about humanity as well. What is the real cost of scientific research that delves into genes and genetics? Is it ethical to sacrifice hundreds of nameless villagers for one miracle scientific discovery? And who gets to decide what is ethical and what isn’t?
With questions like these, Pia’s story leaps off the page and comes to life. Khoury has done a superb job at creating not only a story that is unique, but one that is also believable in a world where controversial scientific ‘miracles’ occur daily.
So for that, 4.5/5.
Thanks for reading,