June 08, 2013

Mary E. Pearson: "The Adoration of Jenna Fox"

Title: The Adoration of Jenna Fox [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Jenna Fox Chronicles (1st of 3 books, but there's also a short story - read it for free here - that is chronologically book 1.5 in the series, though it only came out after book 2)
Author: Mary E. Pearson [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi
Year: 2008
Age: 12+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Deep, imaginative take on what it means to be human.
Cons: Very quiet book, if you're in for some action. On a deeper level, the ending sounds a tad too assertive (see review).
Will appeal to: Sci-fi lovers who don't need a post-apocalyptic scenario. Fans of ethical speculations.

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox has just awoken from a year-long coma - so she’s been told - and she is still recovering from the terrible accident that caused it. But what happened before that? She’s been given home movies chronicling her entire life, which spark memories to surface. But are the memories really hers? And why won’t anyone in her family talk about the accident? Jenna is becoming more curious. But she is also afraid of what she might find out if she ever gets up the courage to ask her questions. What happened to Jenna Fox? And who is she really? (Amazon)

Review: Note: this is not, technically, an "offbeat" book. More of a mainstream one, actually. What can I say in my defence - once in a while, it happens ;).
Awaking-from-coma girls (and, very rarely, boys) are a common topic in YA lit. As a rule, they can't remember a single thing from their prior-to-accident life, or just very little. Parents and doctors do their best to convince them that everything's OK, and it's only a matter of time before they remember (...just to realize that no, not a single thing is OK). As a rule, they're not real amnesiac. Whatever the reason, they're simply not themselves anymore.
So, you may ask, why should I read yet another book that follows that pattern? Well, because this one is good ;). Because while fitting said pattern, Pearson came up with a personal, imaginative, disturbing twist on it. Also, please note this isn't a dystopian, or at least it barely fits the definition. The book is set in a future where certain branches of technology have advanced a lot, but this future is obviously not so far from our present. Everyday life is definitely average, and DVDs with vocal commands are pretty much the most state-of-the-art device we encounter - except the Big Thing around which the novel revolves. There aren't any conspiracies or rebel groups or the like. But under this quiet surface, something huge is boiling nevertheless...
We get acquainted with a 17 year old Jenna, who apparently got out of a coma a couple of weeks before and is slowly being fed facts and memories from her own past by her mother. Jenna's grandma, on the other hand, sounds distant and strangely resentful, for reasons the girl can't understand. Also, they have relocated from Boston to California, and Jenna's father is rarely at home. She has been given DVDs to watch, where her parents seem to have recorded pretty much her whole life (which is creepy, it goes without saying). But little said parents realize that the discs - with the aid of some incidents - will help Jenna uncover not only her memories, but also the truth they were saving for much later. If ever.
The novel alternates chapters of short, keen, insightful sentences with autobiographical pieces of poetry. Though Jenna states she can't remember a thing about her past, and she often muses about words and their meaning - to the point she has to look for them in a dictionary - her narrative is, of course, clear and rich, or there would be no book...Jenna consulting the dictionary is, however, an effective device that allows the reader to 1) explore key-words and rekindle their (multiple) meanings; 2) experience the world on Jenna's own terms. [...]

Despite her parents' efforts to shelter her from the truth as long - and as much - as they can, Jenna slowly pieces it together, though most of her knowledge seems to come from a couple of incidents more than from her incessant speculations (and I wonder...why doesn't she, at any point, questions her complete lack of scars?). While discovering her real nature - and what science did to her - she tries to win back a life and make new friends, some of which will have a huge impact on her future. There are a couple of possible love interests, but I can't stress it enough...NO LOVE TRIANGLE. Also because one of the boys is almost immediately cast in a bad light, and will function as a paradigm for the lack of real humanity. The other boy has a questionable (though understandable) history, but Pearson uses him as an embodiment of what it means to be human. The female friend, Allys, poses the most problems, because she vehemently advocates the dangers of genetic modifications - both for plants and humans - but her voice, strong as it is, will be suppressed in the end. (I will come back to that later).
There were friends in Jenna's past too, which she begins to remember...Kara and Locke, all three of them trying to escape a sheltered life and experience things on their own terms. Jenna finally discovers/remembers what happened to her, and realizes the impact it had on Kara and Locke themselves...so she embarks on a mission in order to save them from the aftermath of it. I won't dwell on that because it would spoil the book hugely, but the, um, Kara and Locke incident is crucial, and poses the deepest ethical issues in the whole novel.
There is a supposed ending, and a real ending (epilogue). And that's where some problems arise, because it IS a tad assertive - besides its 1) endorsing a very unlikely relationship (given Jenna's condition...that is, life expectancy and the like); 2) involving Allys and turning her world upside down, which to me was unnecessary (if not for Jenna-centered purposes...sorry, I can't say more, but you'll understand when you read the ending). My copy also has an interview with the author, where she states that TAOJF was inspired from a couple of potentially tragic events involving her daughters (both diagnosed with cancer, and then cured), and her own musings about how far a parent would go in order to save their kids. While I respect that, and understand her need for a life-affirming statement, a review on Goodreads made me think. Paula from Pink Me (read her original review here*) questions the epilogue and propounds a thought-provoking (yes, that abused adjective again) analysis of the book in retrospect. And while I still love Jenna's story and recommend it, Paula made me aware that there's another side of the coin. Though I'm only subtracting half a star because...well, great concept, gorgeously written novel, and all that. But I hear Paula nonetheless...So, in short, I invite you to read her review too, and make up your mind...

*Please note though...Paula shelved this book "If you like Twilight", and I have never read it nor I have any desire to do so...just so you know I don't agree on this particular statement! ;)

For quotes from this book click here.
For my review of "The Rotten Beast" (companion short story) click here.
For my review of "The Fox Inheritance" (second installment in the series) click here.
For my review of "Fox Forever" (third installment in the series) click here.
For more Sci-Fi books click
Like this book? You might also be interested in Peter Dickinson: "Eva"; Robin Wasserman: "Frozen" ("Skinned").

Left to right: Paperback version, Hardcover & Audio CD version, another Paperback version.
"Jenna" looks a bit too old in the last one (those bags under her eyes that single bag under her single eye...!)
Italian cover...um. Looks like a bubble bath!
The title translates "Inside Jenna" (the original one would have sounded weird in Italian)


  1. Hey Roberta - thanks for an insightful review of this book that, like it or not, is certainly problematic!

    To answer your question, I read Jenna during the whole Twilight fervor, and put it on the 'if you liked Twilight' shelf because it was similar in reading level and appeal factors - age and gender of protagonist, magic realism aspects. Twilight got a lot of girls reading, and I tried to take as much advantage of that as I could! :)

    1. Thank you for your insightful review :) - and for commenting. I thought you were referring to the love angle of this book when comparing it to Twilight, because...[if anyone hasn't read TAOJF yet, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!]
      ...Jenna won't age but Ethan will, and still they are a couple...just like Edward and Bella when the Twilight saga begins (I stated that I haven't read it and it's true, but not living on a desert island, I know a couple of things about it!). On the other hand, Jenna and Ethan are the same age when the book begins, while this can't be said about the infamous Twilight lovers...

      It's interesting that you catalogued TAOJF as magical realism. I thought the definition applied only to fantasy worlds, but Wikipedia told me it "occurs when a character in the story continues to be alive beyond the normal length of life and this is subtly depicted by the character being present throughout many generations. On the surface the story has no clear magical attributes and everything is conveyed in a real setting, but such a character breaks the rules of our real world". Well, I learnt a new thing, thanks to you :)

  2. This book has been on my to-read list for ages! You made me LOL with the comments about the covers! Great review, I really want to pick this one up now. :)

    Christie @ The Shadower's Shelf

    1. And I strongly encourage you to do so ;). This is a novel that poses many issues, but I personally love it in a book.

      Yes, the covers...they can be funny sometimes.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. I'm glad you liked it even though it followed the common formula of " awaken coma girls" . That really is a common theme these days isn't it? Along with android/alien girls I guess lol

    1. Androids have recently taken over awakened-from-coma characters, now that you make me think of it ;). Maybe it was becoming more and more difficult to come up with new scenarios...

    2. And...BTW...I read a very good trilogy (IMO) that combines the coma and android themes: Cold Awakening by Robin Wasserman...see
      Frozen (previously titled Skinned)
      Shattered (previously titled Crashed)
      Torn (previously titled Wired).
      I'll review them soon!


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