If there is any justice in the world, The Adoration of Jenna Fox should should win a Prinz Award for “Excellence in Young Adult Literature.” It’s brilliant. If you want to ensure that you read this novel without any preconceptions or knowledge of the plot, stop here and go get a copy. It’s that good, and that’s all you need to know.
I don’t want to give away any of the plot by giving even a brief synopsis. However, I will tell you a few of the ethical and moral and existential questions and dilemmas that present themselves in the course of the novel.
Like Natalie Babbit’s classic Tuck Everlasting, The Adoration of Jenna Fox asks the question of whether or not people were meant to live forever and what it would mean if they did.
The novel also deals with the ethics of genetic engineering and the problematic application of new bio-technologies in healing and preserving life. What are the unintended side effects of using technology that is imperfectly understood? Should we be genetically engineering our foods and other plants, or are we producing possible mutations that may come back to haunt us in the future?
Then there’s the Frankenstein angle. I happen to be reading Mary Shelley’s little story about human hubris, and the parallels were unmistakable. If science can do something, does that mean that it should? Is it truly possible for human beings to play God and create life, for example human clones, and if we can, should we? And what will be the result of our experimentation, Frankenstein’s monster or a living soul? Where does the soul reside?
The book also deals with identity. What makes me, me? If I have a heart transplant, am I still the same person afterwards? What about that pesky soul again? Where and what is it?
As if that weren’t enough, the book touches on the ethics of euthanasia. Does someone else, even someone who loves me, have the right to keep me alive with the use of technology against my wishes? Do family members have an ethical obligation to keep my body alive, whether or not my mind is still there? How can they know whether my mind is still working or whether it will recover?
And perfectionism is yet another theme. If I spend my life pleasing other people, even the people I love, do I somehow lose my identity?
Not many of these questions are really answered in the course of the story, but the novel does bring these and other dilemmas to light and force the reader to deal with the possible implications of the decisions that are being made in these and other arenas even as I write these words. Do we want to live in bioengineered world, and what would that mean to the way we see human-ness?
Not only does The Adoration of Jenna Fox deal with deeply philosophical and currently relevant issues such as these, but it also does so in beautifully moving language, with a bit of poetry thrown for good measure. Here’s a sample of the poetry:
A bit for someone here.
A bit there.
And sometimes they don’t add up to anything whole.
But you are so busy dancing.
You don’t have time to notice.
Or are afraid to notice.
And then one day you have to look.
And it’s true.
All of your pieces fill up other people’s holes.
But they don’t fill
The poems are adolescent like that, kind of angsty, but good. And they don’t get in the way of the plot which moves at a good pace revealing just enough secrets in each chapter to keep the pages turning. I think this novel will be the best YA novel that I read this year. I can’t imagine anything that would be able to top it.
Jen Robinson: “It is not to be missed, by anyone from fans of speculative fiction to fans of novels in verse (though only a small part is in verse) to fans of adult “literary fiction”. Don’t read any more reviews – don’t risk spoiling it – just go and get it.”
The Reading Zone: “It’s a frightening look at where our society is headed and what might happen in our future. It raises questions of medical ethics, bioethics, humanity, and how far we are willing to go to save someone we love. The plot doesn’t seem outlandish or out of the realm of possibility. In fact, it seems frighteningly possible.”