Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox awakens after more than a year in a coma to find herself in a life—and a body—that she doesn’t quite recognize. Her parents tell her that she’s been in an accident, but much of her past identity and current situation remain a mystery to her: Why has her family abruptly moved from Boston to California, leaving all of her personal belongings behind? Why does her grandmother react to her with such antipathy? Why have her parents instructed her to make sure not to tell anyone about the circumstances of their move? And why can Jenna recite whole passages of Thoreau’s Walden, but remember next to nothing of her own past? As she watches family videos of her childhood, strange memories begin to surface, and she slowly realizes that a terrible secret is being kept from her. (synopsis from School Library Journal)
This is one of those books that makes me feel somewhat out of the loop. Apparently it was something of a Big Deal. Like Keturah and Lord Death, it’s not the next great American novel or anything, but well-received and sort of acclaimed. I had never heard of it and picked it up on a whim. But I am glad that I did.
Now, personally, I will gladly debate almost anyone on politics/religion/the big questions- American culture, Christianity’s merits and flaws, LGBT rights, whether the human race deserves to go extinct… just about the only thing I won’t touch is medical ethics. This is because medical ethics are very, very scary. Drawing a line between doing right and saving lives and playing God, meddling with what shouldn’t be meddled, that is something which I refuse to have an opinion on, because it seems like a question so convoluted as to be impossible. With the kind of technology we have today, and will have in the years to come, we can do some amazing things to help people. But atque in luce, sic semper in tenebra (“as it is in light, so always in darkness”), and so on. We as human beings always manage to hurt people with our miracles, and the capacity for harm in some of the things we’re developing is mind-boggling. I don’t want to get involved.
So when someone, in this case Mary E. Pearson, tackles the very questions I’m too wussy to examine with literary grace and aplomb, I tend to cheer them on. Not only is this book full of deep thoughts, but it presents them in a way that provokes further examination long after you’ve closed its covers. Ultimately, it even presents a funny kind of hope, though the limits Pearson defines are too far past my own personal lines for comfort. It’s only 265 pages, almost slim, but is weighs on you heavily enough that it feels much longer. Gripping and powerful are the two words that come to mind, overused though they may be.
The romance seemed a little thin to me, and never quite got the point of the character Dane- he could probably have been cut out and I wouldn’t have missed him- but otherwise I liked it. Jenna herself seems to be emotionally distant for much of the book, but it fits with her lack of/developing identity, so it works. Four stars.