The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and why sometimes death can be a good thing.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a review of a young adult novel or a children’s book, and I figured that today was as good as any. For those of you who read my blog, I recently wrote about Never Let Me Go, a (sort of) science fiction novel that is more about coming of age than anything else, but does deal with the issue of cloning and it’s effects on society. To an extent, we can think of clone-discrimination as a type of racism; because we are defining someone’s worth based on so-called physical differences/defects. Treating someone badly because their skin is a different color. In the future would we possibly treat someone differently because of their medical origins? Even if they are LITERALLY identical. Just food for thought.

But now we are dealing with a different issue altogether. The YA novel The Adoration of Jenna Fox came upon recommendation from one of my professors, and the minute I picked it up I was hooked. It follows the life of Jenna Fox, who awakens to herself in a vague and mysterious way. She awakens from a year long coma, and is told that she was in a horrific accident. She doesn’t know why she is living in a new house, and why her parents are treating her on a very superficially cheerful level. Or why her grandmother seems to hate her. Eventually we find out that we was in a horrific car crash that had killed her two best friends, and left her so badly injured that she was beyond any hope of recovery. However, her parents had a single option: they “remade” her body as it was exactly before, with the exception that she was about three inches shorter (read the book to discover why). They transplanted the butterfly shaped part of her brain in which memory and personality are stored, and KABAM! They get their daughter back unharmed and life goes on.

Or does it?

Jenna goes through the novel not learning this information from her parents directly, but rather figuring it out through small clues and slowly restructuring memories. How is she supposed to view herself? She is alive and at the same time dead. Does she exist as a new person, a copy of the old, or like her parents, pretend that nothing has happened to her? More interesting as well, is that her parents have “backup” copies of herself, and her two friends that they have kept locked away in the house, just in case anything should ever happen and they need to bring her back again.

Obviously, this book is dealing with the question of how far is too far to save a life in a remarkable way. It touches on issues such as assisted suicides, pulling the plug on terminal patients, and the new technology allowing people to look younger, live longer, and be impervious to almost any and all harm. More so, like all novels dealing with cloning or humanoid robotics; what does it really mean to be human? On top of the turmoil of being a teenager, Jenna must battle with this terrible question; to accept that she is human is to deny her own foreboding feelings, to deny it is to condemn herself to death, essentially. But even then, would her parents simply “upload” the saved version of herself and start over?

Even though Jenna doesn’t go quite so far as to contemplate suicide, she is driven by the feeling that her two deceased friends are crying for release within their little locked hard drives. More so than the question of what makes us human, this novel made me wonder about the mistake of desiring immortality.

I’m not talking about drinking a magical potion, being bitten by a vampire, or making a pact with the devil. I’m talking about how more and more, people are able to survive diseases and afflictions that, ten years ago, were incurable. That people are surviving the most terrible and life-threatening accidents, and rebuilding themselves entirely through it. While I think that it is good that medicine as improved so much, I also think in some ways it’s terrible for us. While I’m not militant about it, I prefer home remedies to antibiotics or hospitals; we are so over-medicated that it won’t be long that the “antibiotic age” is over, and we’re facing new, medicinal-resistant bacterias and viruses. And then we’re really going to be in trouble. And while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to prolong a life; in some instances, it’s just time to say goodbye. Death can be a release, a letting go, a renewal. I really enjoyed that Jenna remembers her two friends, and a significant part of the novel revolves around “trying to set them free”. Obviously, their parents felt it was better to let them go and mourn than to recreate them, as Jenna’s parents have done. And what is the end result? Jenna feels ostracized and pushed away from her family; almost as if they use her now as a living memorial to their “real” Jenna. And is life really worth living if your loved ones can’t bring themselves to love you? These are pretty heavy issues. Death is a natural part of our lives, and Jenna’s realization that she is both dead and alive, well, that is what makes her feel as if she isn’t quite human.

When you play God, you lose your humanity. And I don’t know if humans are ready for that just yet.

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About Angela

Editor, bookbinder, and writer.

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