Title: The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Length: 266 pages
My star rating: ★ ★ ★ ½
Wow—this is my fortieth book of the year! For a while, I didn’t think I’d make it, so bad have my reading habits become.
This is also the first review I’m posting on this review blog, so…welcome!
The Adoration of Jenna Fox begins with a fairly typical set-up: teenage girl wakes up from an accident and cannot remember anything about her life; she knows only what she’s been told—her name, that she’s been ill, and why. Mary Pearson, however, soon throws a curveball—or several—which sets Adoration apart from other amnesia-centered plots I’ve read. Jenna has not only lost her memory of her own life; she’s also lost a grasp of many basic words and the ability to decipher many facial expressions. She does, however, know minute details about long-ago events like the French Revolution. It quickly becomes apparent, to Jenna herself as well as to readers, that she is no ordinary coma patient.
I don’t read a lot of science fiction, dystopian, or futuristic fiction, and this novel was a little of all three. I wouldn’t call it genuinely dystopian, but it has some of those elements. It’s set in the U.S. sometime in the near future. There isn’t a great deal of world-building, but Pearson did offer somewhat tantalizing details: Jenna’s world is one in which “Netbooks,” voice-controlled cars, and female presidents are becoming the norm.
But Adoration is, perhaps first and foremost, a cautionary tale of sorts; Jenna’s world is also one in which polar bears have finally gone extinct; in which the overreliance on antibiotics and genetically-modified food created a deadly plague that wiped out millions of people in the U.S. alone; and, consequently, in which the government has created medical ethics organizations to try and prevent such disasters in the future.
None of this is too spoiler-y, because the book is first and foremost about Jenna. It asks big questions about medical ethics, yes (Henry David Thoreau’s Walden is referred to almost ad nauseam); but its biggest question is really this: what makes someone human? What does it really mean to be human?
I found the “twist” fairly predictable, but nevertheless interesting and entertaining from Jenna’s POV. She has a very strong narrative voice, though she’s perhaps lacking in concrete personality—a fault I can forgive, considering the nature of the plot and her character arc. There were many moments when I truly ached for Jenna.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed by the rest of the characters, with the exceptions of Jenna’s grandmother Lily and one or two of her friends. More unfortunately still, there is a bit of “insta-love” here—and the love interest feels pretty cliché. (Jenna herself is, naturally, beautiful—but this didn’t bother me since her struggle against perfection was a major part of her journey.)
The structure was good, but the book would have been better-served by another hundred pages. Jenna may have millions or billions of biochips, but the whole thing felt a bit rushed. I would have liked to see the narrative tactic employed in If I Stay (which Ididn’t like much in that book, but which could have served a good purpose here): seeing not only more concrete versions of Jenna’s memories as she gets them back, but simply more of them. Another good example of this would be Jessica Warman’s Between. In terms of structure, it reminded me most strongly of The Book Thief, what with Jenna defining words and everything, but that (superior) novel was more than 500 pages long; this one is less than 300.
Otherwise, my biggest issue with Adoration was its predictability. I haven’t read a lot of books in its genre(s), yet I saw where it was going within the first fifty or so pages—and believe me, I’m not usually quick to pick up hints.
I also thought the epilogue was unnecessary in the extreme; tacking it on the end felt like a rushed, last-minute decision, and it really lessened emotional and psychological impact rest of the book.
That said, I enjoyed this book a lot and I’ll probably pick up its sequel (though I may let it stand on its own). Pearson is a talented writer and created an evocative idea and a pretty sympathetic and interesting lead. Her idea has plenty of potential, even if the book itself doesn’t quite live up to it. I’d recommend it to anyone who has a passing interest in science fiction or even in dystopian.
[Also on Goodreads.]