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The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox has just awakened from a long coma. The coma was the result of a terrible accident in which she lost not only a year of her life, but all memory of who she was. The persons she’s supposed to call mother, father and grandmother are complete strangers to her. She watches videos of the previous years of her life hoping they’ll bring something back, but all along she senses that something is not quite right. Jenna’s own life has become a mystery to her, but this is only one of many mysteries surrounding her. What exactly is it that she’s not being told? What is the truth about Jenna Fox?

Ah, highly spoilable books: how I love reviewing you (not). I could probably make The Adoration of Jenna Fox sound appealing and enticing and do my best to convince those of you who also resisted the buzz back in 2008 to give it a try without including any spoilers. But I’m afraid I absolutely cannot discuss this book in any amount of depth without them. The thing is, spoilable though it is, The Adoration of Jenna Fox is not really a twist! surprise! revelation! sort of book. Jenna discovers what her family has been hiding from her about halfway through the story, and attentive readers will likely have a very strong suspicion long before that. It is then that the real business of The Adoration of Jenna Fox begins: the business of considering the implications of the situation Jenna finds herself in. Nevertheless, if you want to go into the book knowing nothing, beware from this point on.

Confession time: even though The Adoration of Jenna Fox came highly recommended by several people I trust, for a while there I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a book for me. The reason is that at first the story seemed to mostly deal with a question I don’t happen to find particularly interesting: does a human consciousness supported by an artificial, human-created body still amount to a human being? I’m not saying this isn’t an interesting question to others, or that literature shouldn’t explore it, but I guess in the end it all comes down to what you believe in: I don’t believe in souls, nor do I believe that humans were intentionally created by a higher being. If Artificial Intelligence ever goes so far as to create something in every way alike a human mind except in the fact of its lack of biological origins, I wouldn’t be particularly interested in discussing whether or not this being was human. To me the answer would be a clear yes, and I find that there are far more interesting questions to be considered in such a scenario.

One of them is, for example, how such a being would experience his or her humanity. Would they think of themselves as human? What would the knowledge that there was something that differentiated them from everyone they’d ever know feel like? What would this do to their sense of identity? Happily for me, these are exactly some of the questions The Adoration of Jenna Fox deals with. The issue of what it means to be human is considered, but rather than framed as a philosophical discussion I personally happen to be bored of, it’s considered from a very human and interpersonal angle that most certainly does interest me.

I have some minor complaints about the book, such as the fact that Jenna’s father, who is supposed to be a brilliant scientist, is a firm believer in the We Only Really Use 10% of Our Brains myth. I could get worked up about the BAD SCIENCE here (and if I dwell on this for more than ten seconds I surely will), but I suppose I could also read the story generously and see a man in doubt, a man who’s terrible afraid, a man who is desperately trying to hold on to anything he can to reassure himself and his child that despite the unprecedented technology employed to allow her to live, despite the world’s lack of language, lack of a definition, lack of a consensus concerning who she is, she is in fact a human being – she is his daughter, Jenna Fox.

One of the main themes of The Adoration of Jenna Fox is medical ethics. Again, I found myself less interested in the whole Are We Going Too Far and Playing Gods angle than in Pearson’s exploration of the subject from an interpersonal angle. How far should parents go to save their child? Can you ever justify desperate measures taken without the patient’s explicit consent, especially when these are measures that will change this person’s life forever? Are Jenna’s parents hopelessly creepy or are they just flawed, desperate human beings doing the best they can? Pearson does a remarkable job of turning them into nuanced, complex characters about which readers are free to make up their own minds. The addition of Jenna’s friend’s Allys parent’s at the end only furthers this point.

This brings me to another theme, which is perhaps better exemplified by Jenna’s grandmother, Lily – one of the most intriguing characters in the novel. Lily embodies the tension between abstract beliefs and the real pull of human connections – the place where even the harshest of dogmas tends to soften. Lily loved her granddaughter, but it’s obvious that at first she doesn’t see this Jenna Fox as the person she has lost. The reasons for this are numerous, but one of them is the fact that she’s operating under a definition of humanity that doesn’t leave room for this Jenna. Lily is never villanised for feeling the way she does. She’s never shown to have been foolish, and she has no sudden or radical change of heart. But the more she spends time with Jenna, the more she becomes unable to deny her personhood. And this is why in the end she proves a better ally than Jenna’s own parents: her unflinching honesty is exactly what makes her granddaughter’s individuality so undeniable. This happens at a time when Jenna’s parents are still mostly concerned with having something, anything, fulfil the role of [daughter]. In the end, if there’s something that can rob Jenna of her humanity, it is this: not being a “half-human lab rat”, as one character puts it at one point, but being perceived as replaceable and interchangeable.

They read it too: Stuff as Dreams Are Made On

Date: 2011-07-18 04:27 pm (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
I remember really loving this book, except for the romance (I am predictable) and the epilogue. How did you find those to be personally? I have a lot of complicated feelings about both of these topics, but also about motherhood and the cultural narrative that all girls are going to grow up to want it. The epilogue made me feel really weird, looking back. Now, of course, I am not sure if I would read it the same way, but the first time I did I felt like the epilogue wasn't Jenna at all, but the author, if that makes sense. It was all "wait! there's still a happy ending!" as if for girls romance/babies = happy ending, whereas I thought it was more interesting and complicated without that because the book didn't sell me on that being a massive concern for Jenna. But I could be misremembering?

I think I am just anti-epilogue and should never read them. *g*

Date: 2011-07-19 08:59 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Oo OO totally unrelated but the whole 'you'll stay together forever if it's right epilogue thing' GAH, but it reminded me of 'The Vast Fields of Ordinary' where there's a pretty deep relationship going on but in the epilogue we learn that it hasn't lasted and everyone is kind of ok with that. The toruble with that epilogue is that I get the feeling that the whole relationship is about Dade's development (manic pixie dream boy syndrome, but without the manic and between two dudes if that makes sense) not about two partners coming together. So you're like 'Look meaningful relationships can exist, then end and still be important' but also 'Oh man Dade it's not all about you!'. In conclusion I am against epilogues.

Also thanks for reminding me about this book!

Date: 2011-07-19 09:41 pm (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
UGH, JODIE, THAT BOOK. I so wanted to love that book, but couldn't.

Flash forward epilogues drive me CRAZY. It's like skipping rocks over time and it's so hard to do well. I found it really unpleasant in that story.

It does make sense to compare it to the manic pixie dream girl, but yeah, Alex was too easygoing for the first to apply, really. But it really does follow that pattern, doesn't it? I never thought of it like that. But it raises the question about the point of relationships when we're young and so often, it IS often All About Us, which is something that's untrue but you learn with age...which is a totally different topic, I guess!

Date: 2011-07-20 03:01 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Ugh that epilogue! So agree, I do not want flash into the future epilogues and it can seem like the author wanting to guide your mind to the 'right' final conclusion. Does not like.

I think that's kind of why I'm seeing pixie dream boy syndrome, because it's like Dade needs this totally unnecessary epilogue to be like 'oh my inability to understand Alex's motivations and the boy who could be so much more but he is an enigma and nobody understands his desire to be less (gah not everybody moves away to the city jerk), his journey is all about my reaction to his journey' (I read it last year so this may be totally off but that's how I remember it).

Date: 2011-07-19 01:29 am (UTC)
chaila: Diana SWORDFIGHTING in a BALLGOWN. (reading)
From: [personal profile] chaila
Somehow I managed to completely miss the buzz for this book, so I don't even have to overcome resistance. And your write-up definitely has me intrigued! (Although from the first comment: Argh, why must there always be the romance for the girls in the YA books?! Whyyyy? But I will whine no more about that until I've read it!)

Date: 2011-07-19 04:16 am (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
Be sure to come back and whine with us when you've finished! I had so many ~feelings~ about this book!

Date: 2011-08-20 04:03 pm (UTC)
chaila: Diana SWORDFIGHTING in a BALLGOWN. (wall-e)
From: [personal profile] chaila
So hi! I read this book and had ~thoughts~, so I am inflicting them on you. I actually really liked most of it, and especially how a big theme of it was medical ethics from the POV of the persons saved and how far parents should go to save a child. Her parents just kept getting creepier, as things they had done were revealed over the course of the book. I thought it was fascinating that in the end Lily is the one who really helps her find her identity again, by helping Jenna guess how they had "improved" her on this second go-round, and helping her destroy the backups. The backups were so creepy! Backup daughters! Backup witnesses!

But the end and epilogue were so frustrating! I did find interesting the push and pull between abstract beliefs and personal connections, ultimately in the form of Allys' parents, who in the end chucked all out their beliefs about ethics to save their daughter. Except we got nothing else about this, and especially nothing about this later from Allys, who was the person throughout the whole book talking about ethics and limits and how important they were. What did SHE ultimately think, and why didn't the book care?

The romance didn't bother me until the epilogue either. I hate hate hate the whole thread of "meet your soulmate when you're 17" aspect of YA fiction, especially since it really was a superficial happy ever after. And then she'll have a baby and then die happy? What? What I really wanted the epilogue to about was Jenna and Allys' 200 YEAR RELATIONSHIP, or is that not as important to Jenna and/or readers because it's about two girls? *bitter*

Date: 2012-07-25 04:46 am (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
Are you including reviews? :) Chris reviewed this here.

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