“Origin” is a wonderful science fiction story that’s geared for young adults but also will appeal to an adult audience.
It features Pia, a genetically engineered teen-age girl who is being hidden away in a fenced and guarded compound in the Amazon rainforest. She is immortal and has a pet jaguar and has always known her destiny: to breed with a carefully picked male to start a new race of people who are immortal.
She lives in the compound, called Little Cam, with her mother and father, but her parents take a back seat in raising her to the scientists who train and test her. Pia regards most of the scientists in the compound as family; in fact she calls them her uncles and aunts.
Little Cam consists of 13 buildings and includes a pool and a gym as well as several labs and dorms. When Pia has passed several tests and her scientific training is complete, she will be able to discover the secret of Immortals, the drug that has made her immortal.
In the interim, her days are very structured, with time set aside for mathematics, genetics, botany, biomedics and microbiology, along with exercise time and study time. There are no other teenagers in the compound. In fact, she is the only immortal in the compound. Everyone else there reminds her daily that she is perfect.
Pia knows very little about where she is. Omitted from her education have been lessons on geography of the world, history and any reading material (other than scientific reading). Those subjects, along with magazines and movies, are considered potentially corrupting influences. There are very few visitors to Little Cam except for monthly delivery personnel until Dr. Harriet Fields arrives. She is a new biomedical engineer who befriends Pia.
Harriet secretly gives Pia a map of the world for her 17th birthday. Pia hides it because she knows her uncles and aunts would confiscate it. She is amazed at how little she knows of the world.
The night she gets the map, Pia also discovers a hole in the fence that encircles the compound. She can’t resist the temptation, so she and her jaguar sneak out into a world she has never been allowed to visit. Just outside the fence, she meets Eio, a boy about her age who lives in a nearby village. Eio tells Pia that the natives consider Little Cam evil.
Pia continues sneaking out to meet Eio until workers discover the hole and repair it. Harriet helps Pia sneak out a few more times to meet Eio. Eio falls in love with Pia and wants her to leave her “cage” and come live with him in his village.
People in his village consider the jaguar a sacred symbol; they also think Pia is magical and has come to save them.
Pia is torn between her love for Eio and her duty to science and the people she has grown to love and who have been grooming her to help create the perfect immortal race. Harriet has warned her that Little Cam has a dark side, and that although the new race might be immortal, it is far from perfect.
This is Jessica Khoury’s first novel, and it’s a good one. She was raised in Georgia and continues to live there.
Maggie Braun is a teacher at Manhattan High School.