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REVIEW: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

The Adoration of Jenna FoxDear Ms. Pearson,

I first heard about your YA novel, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, last December during the Smugglivus event on The Book Smugglers blog. Author Nalini Singh did a guest post recapping her favorite books read in 2009. Her description of the book was brief but, combined with the hardcover's eyecatching cover and with the fact that I've enjoyed several Singh books, it intrigued me enough to look up your novel, and after reading a longer description, I purchased the ebook.

I used to be someone.

Someone named Jenna Fox.

That's what they tell me. But I am more than a name. More than they tell me. More than the facts and statistics they fill me with. More than the video clips they make me watch.

More. But I am not sure what.

"Jenna, come sit over here. You don't want to miss this." The woman I am supposed to call Mother pats the cushion next to her. "Come," she says again.

I do.

"This is an historic moment," she says. She puts her arm around me and squeezes. I lift the corner of my mouth. Then the other: a smile. Because I know I am supposed to. It is what she wants.

"It's a first," she says. "We never had a woman president of Nigerian descent before."

"A first," I say. I watch the monitor. I watch Mother's face. I've only just learned how to smile. I don't know how to match her other expressions. I should.

"Mom, come sit with us," she calls out toward the kitchen. "It's about to start."

I know she won't come. She doesn't like me. I don't know how I know. Her face is as plain and expressionless to me as everyone else's. It is not her face. It is something else.

"I'm doing a few dishes. I'll watch from the monitor in here," she calls back.

I stand. "I can leave, Lily," I offer.

She comes and stands in the arched doorway. She looks at Mother. They exchange an expression I try to understand. Mother's face drops into her hands. "She's your nana, Jenna. You've always called her Nana."

"That's all right. She can call me Lily," she says and sits down on the other side of Mother.

So begins The Adoration of Jenna Fox, an eerie, unsettling novel told from the viewpoint of a seventeen year old girl who has just awakened from a year and a half long coma.

The setting is California in the not-too-far future. Jenna doesn't yet have all her faculties back, but she has enough to sense that something is wrong. Or perhaps everything is wrong. Or maybe it is she who is the something wrong.

There is a mystery surrounding her which Jenna feels the need to solve. But how can she do so when she lacks almost all memories of her former life, and of things as basic as words? She begins by looking up word definitions.

Curious adj. 1. Eager to learn or to know, inquisitive.
2. Prying or meddlesome.
3. Inexplicable, highly unusual, odd, strange.

At her mother's request, Jenna begins to watch recordings of her previous life. She discovers that Jenna Fox was adored by her parents, a beloved only child. The Jenna Fox on the discs physically resembles the Jenna who watches them, but on the inside Jenna feels like a different — curiously so — person.

She can remember and recite historical facts, and yet she feels disconnected from her own history. And then there is the way her grandmother, Lily, keeps her at arms' length and the way her parents conceal things from her. Jenna doesn't love her mother, but when her mother tells her to go to her room she is helpless to do anything else.

The adults in Jenna's life try to restrict her activities. They don't want her to leave the house without them, even to explore the yard. They don't want her to eat anything other than the nutritional liquids they give her. They don't want her to ask questions which they have difficulty answering.

Things come to a head when Jenna begins to remember. She remembers that before her accident, when she and her parents lived in Boston, she used to go to school and have friends. Two friends in particular stand out in her mind, Kara and Locke. Where are they now? What's happened to them in the time Jenna was comatose?

Jenna insists that her parents allow her to attend school, and eventually her parents cave. Jenna can go to a special school, which has only four other students.

Once there, Jenna discovers that her fellow students all have reasons for attend such a small school. Dane, who calls the others freaks, is lacking in empathy and humanity, but Jenna is nonetheless drawn to his blunt honesty. Allys, who uses artificial limbs because she suffered a bacterial infection and was not able to obtain the restricted antibiotics, has a special interest in bioethics. And then there is Ethan, who seems to feel too much, who is rumored to have done something terrible, and who shows Jenna the understanding that she craves.

Who can Jenna trust in her search for the truth? Dane, who will not soften his words but who may do her harm? Lily, once her adoring grandmother and now a skeptic where anything Jenna does or says is concerned? Ethan, who cares for Jenna but whom she may inadvertently hurt? Her parents, who claim to love Jenna unconditionally but who sometimes make Jenna feel imprisoned?

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is a disquieting, genre-bending novel. It is equal parts science fiction thriller and family drama, with a little bit of YA romance and coming-of-age story added into the mix.

This novel is character-driven and almost all the suspense comes from the characters. How will they react? What will they reveal? And how will Jenna react to the knowledge she uncovers? There aren't any car chases or guns drawn in this book and yet the suspense never dissipates.

One of the reasons why is that Jenna is fascinating protagonist. She is both similar to and at the same time, utterly different from a typical teenage girl. At first she is a mystery, not just to the reader, but also to herself. Who is she? What is she? These questions consume Jenna and they also kept me turning the pages.

But even though Jenna was clearly unusual and odd, she also had a core of longings that I could relate to – the needs to be known and understood, loved and accepted – and it was this core that made me care about her and fear for her.

As for the other characters in the story, they felt very real to me. They too were compelling and sometimes mysterious, but most of the time, I could understand what motivated them, even when I also understood why Jenna was at odds with some of them. My one complaint about the side characters is that every single one highlighted something about the novel's themes, to such a degree that when the characters are taken together, this sometimes felt artificial, though as people they themselves did not.

One of the highlights of this book was the language. The writing was simple and spare, but at the same time, amazingly effective at conjuring an ominous sense of danger and a disturbing, eerie feeling. Each time I picked up the book I was sucked in, while every break I took from reading made me think about Jenna and dread what she might discover and what might happen to her.

The book ends with an epilogue that I'm of two minds about, because it raises almost as many questions as it answers. But I love the final image with which The Adoration of Jenna Fox closes, and I will definitely be reading more of your work in the future. B+.

Sincerely,

Janine Ballard

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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

20 Comments

  1. AmyW
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 14:19:12

    This sounds really interesting! Thanks for the review, adding this to my TBR list…
    ~Amy

    ReplyReply

  2. Janine
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 15:33:13

    I hope you enjoy it, Amy! Please feel welcome to come back and post your thoughts. It was a very different kind of book and I am really glad I read it.

    ReplyReply

  3. Heather
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 16:56:52

    Sounds interesting. I just put it on hold at the library.

    ReplyReply

  4. Janine
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 17:08:29

    @Heather: I hope you like it! And like I said to Amy, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    I think this is a good one to find in libraries, since it’s a YA and was first published in hardcover.

    ReplyReply

  5. Nicole
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 20:16:10

    I really enjoyed this book when I read it, and was happy to see it reviewed here. I’ve been recommending it to YA and adult patrons who like less straight-forward titles, and so far everybody who has read it has liked it. I, too, am going to be reading more of Ms. Pearson’s work.

    ReplyReply

  6. Janine
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 20:21:38

    @Nicole: Glad to hear you enjoyed the book too. I so agree that the YA genre has great things to offer to adult readers as well as teens. I was just eying Ms. Pearson’s The Miles Between. It seems like a different flavor of YA, but still intriguing.

    ReplyReply

  7. Jennie
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 22:37:53

    I may have to give this one a try – your review makes it sound really intriguing!

    ReplyReply

  8. Janine
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 22:58:25

    @Jennie: It is really intriguing. I think there’s a good chance you’d like it.

    This review was hard to write because I wanted to capture the feel of the book. That’s one of the reasons I quoted such a long section. A lot of what made the book was Jenna’s narration so I wanted to make sure readers got a good sense of it.

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  9. Nalini Singh
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 00:40:07

    Janine, I’m so glad you enjoyed this. I thought it was both haunting and thought-provoking – I’d love to see Ms. Pearson write another book that explores more of this world.

    Have you read Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go”? You might enjoy that as well – it has the same sense of secrets and hidden truths.

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  10. Janine
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 01:22:31

    @Nalini Singh: Thanks; I really appreciate your recommending it! Haunting and thought-provoking are good descriptions.

    I have never read Never Let Me Go but I just looked it up on Amazon and it sounds fascinating so I will add it to my enormous TBR list. Thanks again for pointing me in the direction of The Adoration of Jenna Fox!

    ReplyReply

  11. KMont
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 07:02:47

    I remember this one from the Smugglers as well! But then I went and forgot about it. Thank you so much for the reminder. I did skim parts of your review, but what I did read got me all excited for the book – again.

    ReplyReply

  12. Janine
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 07:13:18

    @KMont: Hope you enjoy it, KMont!

    ReplyReply

  13. Randi
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 09:31:30

    Wow. This sounds very intriguing. Excellent review, Janine. I just put it on my wish list!

    ReplyReply

  14. Janine
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 12:40:51

    @Randi: I hope you like it too, Randi. I’d love to hear what everyone thinks of it.

    ReplyReply

  15. Kristina Cook
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 15:15:07

    Thanks to your recommendation, I bought it on my Kindle and read it in a day–loved it!! Reminded me a lot of Skinned by Robin Wasserman. The writing was so spare, yet beautiful. Very well crafted, and a total page-turner (though I figured out pretty early on what had happened–probably because I’d already read Skinned).

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  16. Janine
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 15:36:01

    @Kristina Cook: Oh, so glad you enjoyed this too!!! I will have to look up Skinned. I couldn’t agree more about Pearson’s writing. The tone was so appropriate to the character, too. I had my suspicions about what had happened though there were other possibilities I considered also.

    ReplyReply

  17. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson « The Sleepless Reader
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 09:59:13

    [...] Books, Teen Book Review, Book Addiction, Out of the Blue,  YA Reads, bildungsroman, Dear Author, A Novel World, 5 Minutes for Books, I’m Booking It, 2 Kids and Tired Books, My Book, My [...]

  18. REVIEW: Unremembered by Jessica Brody
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 11:02:05

    [...] read other books dealing with similar topics — The Adoration of Jenna Fox comes immediately to mind – the revelation was not at all a revelation. In fact, it was pretty [...]

  19. apple
    Apr 15, 2013 @ 10:13:46

    @AmyW:

    ReplyReply

  20. apple
    Apr 15, 2013 @ 10:16:44

    This book is boring.
    My class just finished reading it. save yourself…….. pleaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaassssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssseeeeeeeee. APPLE’S ADVISE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyReply

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