Jenna Fox is a seventeen year old who has been in a coma for eighteen months after a terrible car accident. Now she has awakened, but her memory has not:
“I don’t remember my mother, my father, or Lily. I don’t remember that I once lived in Boston. I don’t remember the accident. I don’t remember Jenna Fox.”
By page 31 we get a huge hint to the mysteries posed thus far by Jenna’s condition. At that point, I almost put the book down, but decided there must be a reason why the author gives it away so quickly; she must have more to say. And in fact, she does.
Caution: The next two paragraphs are sort of spoilery.
Ten percent of Jenna’s brain was salvaged from the accident and a bit of her skin and DNA, so she was reconstituted with her father’s biotech innovation “Bio Gel.” Jenna is furious when she finds out. Is she even human? Is the “brain” the same as the “mind”? Does she have a soul? Will she now be perfect or can she just be Jenna – that is, the new Jenna? What will the repercussions be when she falls in love with a “human” male who will age, can procreate, and will die?
Moreover, there are societal issues to be considered as well: How far should a parent go to save a child? Is it ethical to pour so many resources into one life? Who decides then who shall live and who shall die?
Discussion: If you’ve read Richard Powers book Galatea 2.2, you know that there are much more sophisticated ways to treat the issues raised in this related story for young adults. But I think giving voice to these concerns by a teenaged girl is a good idea. First, it brings these issues to the attention of young readers, which may get them interested in the very real contemporary debate on allocation of resources for health care. Second, there is also a very charming coming of age aspect to the story when Jenna meets a boy she likes, which adds another dimension of interest for readers otherwise adverse to reading about science.
Evaluation: I really liked the way the author portrayed Jenna; I thought her voice had a wonderful authenticity in spite of Jenna’s enhanced mental capabilities. The way she related to her parents, with that typical teen combination of love and rebelliousness, seemed right on. I also liked the way Jenna loved her friends, both male and female. I can’t rave about the book for me as an adult; it struck me as very much a YA book (which is not, I should add, a negative characterization).
The epilogue, however, showed promise as an additional book! (And indeed, there are continuations of this story.) It has echoes of Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love, which, if you haven’t read it, is a scifi classic about a long-lived male who keeps outliving the women he loves. Heinlein was a bit of a male chauvinist however; it would be wonderful to see what the author does with the story of Jenna Fox next to reflect a female perspective on disparate lifespans.
Published by Henry Holt and Co., 2008