Origin - Jessica Khoury
Content warnings:
-animal abuse

(3.5 stars) What really attracted me to Origin was its concept and setting: a girl is made to be the first of an immortal race deep in the rainforest. Sci-fi in a fresh location (at least, in YA fiction)--what could be better? But it didn't take me long to realize that the intriguing science fiction set-up was a clever mask disguising a much simpler and much less original romance-driven fantasy plot line.

Pia, the protagonist, is literally born to be perfect. She can't forget or bleed (although she can bruise, which is bleeding on the inside, so unless there's an explanation I simply missed I'm assuming this is a plot hole?). Now, I've seen a ton of people on this site moan about her perfection, but I loved it. It was her flaw, and it made her interesting. I mean, how many self-entitled douche bags of the here-and-now think they're the epitome of perfection without being placed in Pia's situation? I thought this was nice, to be honest. You go, Pia! Yes, at times her attitude bordered on insufferable, but I looked forward to the breakdown of her "I'm perfect because I was made to be" mentality. You had to know it was coming; it's an arc foreshadowed from the get-go.

Eio, the love interest, posed a problem for me, mostly because I wanted to love him so much until it became clear that it was Khoury's intent to have him glide through the plot only as the "incredibly hunky-chested love interest driven only by his love for her." He was basically there to propel Pia's storyline and provide her with a reason to change. He's a plot point, not a character, and as he doesn't undergo any major arcs himself as one of the leads, it seems a bit problematic. Sure, he reacts to certain events as he should (e.g., his father's death), but it's only a reaction, and he's not altered or motivated by them. His whole being and purpose revolves around how he can save/serve the protagonist, Pia, and I feel kind of cheated.

I'm very conflicted in my opinions on the supporting and side characters. For the most part, I liked Harriet, although she seemed a bit scripted (an odd thing to say about someone whose whole being is a series of lines and actions, but I mean her words were so predictable or forcibly charming that I was afraid I'd create wrinkles in this beautiful book from squeezing it so hard). Her whole arc seemed to unfold like an actor who knew her lines too well, even if I do admit I still had interest in her and her character. Like I said: conflicted.

Now, to nitpick to the extreme, I have to say that although Pia's father made me want to jump up and cheer near the end, there was this specific couple of lines that really struck a wrong nerve with me. Pia tries to explain his shyness as though it's something that needs to be explained. As if shyness or awkwardness are negative personality traits caused by some past trauma or drama and are not normal to be had. Again, I'm really being specific here, but it was the way those thoughts were worded that really bothered me.

Speaking of bothersome, those dang scientists. Almost every scientist in Origin was a cliche: cold, heartless, unsympathetic. In short, sacrificing humanity in the name of SCIENCE. (Also, there were too many characters that received names in this book, I think--shoot! who was this again? I kept thinking that, but I was too lazy to flip back and check.)

Oh. Khoury, this is where you shine. It's obvious that she did her research, because the jungle came to life with such beauty and vivid imagery. I LOVED the setting, and I would read Khoury's future books just based on the life of her setting imagery, because that is such a huge part of making a story breathe, and she nailed it.

Okay, so the plot is clearly fantasy when it's being marketed as science fiction, and though I do love good fantasy, it was annoying to be fooled. But I think Khoury had every intention to make this book fit the sci-fi genre and just didn't realize what sci-fi actually meant . . . or something.

For the plot to work, it really needed to rely on Pia being kept in the dark, but Pia is super intelligent--kind of comes with being born perfect. So why didn't she ever ask any of the important questions? For the sake of plot convenience? I refuse to believe she was so easily duped and manipulated, not someone so smart.

As the emotion and drama heightened in the last quarter of the book, things began to get a little silly. The suspense became nothing but a predictable capture-tag game where Pia turns around only to find her antagonists once again a step ahead of her, using someone she loves as leverage for her to cooperate. And this happened over and over and over.

About the content warnings:
The animal abuse is just ridiculous. It feels as though it's used for dramatic effect only to show how serious things really are (like, really really), and it made me want to scream until I hurled. Animal abuse for special effects? And this is no little matter. It happens a lot more than once, and these scenes are described with great detail. Seriously, if this kind of thing affects you, please don't read.

Regarding racism . . . okay, I understand the need for creating cruel and horrid characters and letting the readers know that they act the way they do because they're frigging disgusting people, but Pia continued to call Eio, the boy she was infatuated with, as her "wild boy," in her thoughts until the end. This I'm not so okay with, because it was presented in a neutral, even positive light. And the whole plot ended up seeming like another "white savior" story (think Avatar).

There were a lot of sexist themes running amok in this book, too, with Eio giving Pia a necklace that basically means she belongs to him . . . without her consent. When this finally comes to light, Pia even likes it. I just didn't see any reason for this. There's also a pretty blatant sexist comment, one that Pia takes no offense to and even regards as complimentary:

"'I will take you back.' he [Eio] repeats in a firmer tone. 'It's not good for a woman to walk alone in the jungle without a man to protect her.'
He thinks I'm a woman. I stand a little taller."

I just . . .

I realize I tend to be pretty darn critical on reviews, but I did enjoy reading Origin. It had the potential to turn into something much greater than a simple love story, but I don't fully regret the ride. And I applaud Khoury for writing a book with a setting and characters the genre hasn't seen much of. If you like love stories and don't take the plot on the jacket as advertised, then this is an okay read.