I’ve been reading more YA than MG books these days, partially because I simply enjoy them, partially because I’m working on a YA sci fi, and partially because I’m always on the lookout for books that will work for advanced middle graders who tell me they aren’t interested in love triangles or sparkly vampires.
I mentioned several books in an earlier post as being a great books for advanced middle grade readers and got many more suggestions in the comments, so thanks to everyone for that. For those interested in a softer speculative fiction story that isn’t overly graphic or violent, I want to talk about The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, which, to me, has great potential to spark some interesting discussion.
Who is Jenna Fox? Seventeen-year-old Jenna has been told that is her name. She has just awoken from a coma, they tell her, and she is still recovering from a terrible accident in which she was involved a year ago. But what happened before that? Jenna doesn’t remember her life. Or does she? And are the memories really hers? Set in a near future America, it takes readers on an unforgettable journey through questions of bio-medical ethics and the nature of humanity.
I enjoy a good dystopian tale, but sometimes I get a little exhausted from the violence that pervades YA dystopians these days. I enjoyed Jenna Fox in the same way I enjoyed Gattaca, an under-rated film that takes place in a near-future where people’s genetic make-up is accessible and their lives are pre-determined by society’s prejudices of the genetically “inferior.” Both are slower, thought-provoking stories, more focused on theme than fast-paced plot.
Adoration slowly unravels the mystery of “what” Jenna has become since her accident. It is an extremely internal story. An extraordinary percentage of the book is made up of Jenna’s thoughts. But I enjoyed waking up from her coma with her, trying to figure out the world around her. Simple things that we don’t think about – the dual meanings and subtleties of words that she has to relearn. Facial expressions that she has to identify to understand if someone is happy, sad, or lying.
I thought the writing was strong, in many places poetic. The characters were 3-dimensional. People are not all good or bad. Good people can make bad decisions. And second guess those decisions. Do the wrong things for the right reason. And even then, there’s grey area between right and wrong.
The book looks at what it means to be human. If we could easily replace parts of humans, how much could we replace before the person is no longer human? What part of us makes us human? These are the ideas that the book addresses as well as what lengths one would go to as a parent to save their child.