The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Mary E Pearson
Walker Books 2010
Who is Jenna Fox? Seventeen-year-old Jenna has been told that is her name. She has just awoken from a year-long coma, and she's still recovering from the terrible accident that caused it. Her parents show her home movies of her life, her memories, but she has no recollection. Is she really the same girl she sees on the screen? Little by little, Jenna begins to remember. Along with the memories come questions—questions no one wants to answer for her. What really happened after the accident? (Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)
Jenna Fox lives in a world semi-destroyed by bio-engineering. Crops survive only in their genetically engineered form and the human race is suffering from the overuse and over-creation of antibiotics with killer virus's raging uncontrolled. You know that super flu that is often mentioned by the press – the one that is going to kill us all because it will have evolved to counteract any drugs we can through at it? Well, in Jenna's world that has already happened. And bio-engineering hasn't stopped with the plants and flowers – of course not... Jenna's own father is the doctor behind Bio-Gel, a miraculous product that is able to keep transplant organs alive out with the human body indefinitely. Jenna's world is one where science is the absolute driving force, albeit heavily regulated. It makes current debates over stem-cell research seem like the arguments of children and is, to be honest, a daunting place to read about.
Jenna herself is struggling with her identity, unsure of who she is after an almost fatal accident. The more she tries, and fails, to remember the more suspicious she becomes. She is a great character – initially quite cold and objective in her narration, she becomes increasingly animated as her story unfolds. Her relationship with her parents is fascinating, particularly when she views the tapes of her previous existence through newly objective eyes. Her parents themselves are nicely drawn characters – I didn't always like them but I did sympathise with them greatly. Equally, her grandmother Lily adds an additional (and much needed) family dynamic as a woman struggling to reconcile her religious convictions with the truth before her eyes. As Jenna's prospective suitor, Ethan is perfectly flawed, pragmatic and refreshingly honest. He and her other classmates provide a vital portrait of the future as it exists here. Dane particularly adds to the storyline, truly scaring me which provides a measure of Pearson's skill as an author, as she writes very little about him yet manages to imbue his character with a genuine inhumanity. I would, however, have liked stronger resolutions to both his character and that of Alyss. I was left wondering what happened to them and how they dealt with their respective situations.
What makes The Adoration of Jenna Fox a real success, however, is its ability to make you think about your own ethics, beliefs and morals. The main question arising during the storyline is that of how far is too far? This arises again and again over the course of the book, be it in relation to scientists “playing God” or parents trying to do the best for their children. The latter particularly interested me. To what lengths is is acceptable for a parent to go to for their child, and at what point does it stop being about the child and start being about the parents inability to let go? As a mother myself, the decision that Jenna's parents make and their reactions to its consequences have stayed with me. I like to think that I wouldn't make their choices, but in all honesty I think that there is a decent chance that I would.
Running through the story is an examination of what makes us human and what it is to live. Pearson uses several quotes from Thoreau's Walden to great affect during Jenna's attempt to answer these questions - conundrums that I suspect none of us really know the answer to. The author's own writing is very arresting and quite sparse, giving Jenna a unique and believable voice. Particularly effective is the use of birds as an allegory for the soul – the last line of the book is especially beautiful. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to both adults and teens. For young adults I think it would work particularly well as an introduction to classic science fiction authors such as Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury all of whom have pondered similar themes in their work. The Adoration of Jenna Fox encourages us to ponder them too, something that we should all do from time to time. Grab a copy and enjoy the questions it asks, as well as heeding the warnings it whispers about our possible future.