I read novels constantly, especially YA. According to a recent study from Bowker Market Research 55% of books published for kids aged 12 to 17 are purchased by adults. With so many new YA books coming out this Fall, I've been reading three books at one time. It's a great way to mulit-task...and also a great way to go a little crazy!
I hear and read all the time about the next Twilight or the next Hunger Games. Fiction is inspired by countless stories, either real or imaged. There's nothing new under the sun. However, there is a novel, on bookstore shelves, that shines above many out there, right now. It's Origin by debut author Jessica Khoury.
Khoury was walking one day when an image popped into her mind - a crying girl, trapped by glass walls, surrounded by a jungle. She says:
"Within minutes, I knew the entire premise of the story, that the girl's name was Pia, and how it took place in a jungle. I know they like to diss insta-love--but I was head-over-heels, instantly in love with this story."
Khoury immediately ran home and began writing the first chapter of Origin. Her suspenseful and uniquely fresh story hits it out of the ballpark in a YA market saturated with paranormal romance and dystopian novels - all fun stuff, but I'm always on the lookout for something completely different. I found that in Origin.
Pia, the protagonist, is a scientific experiment. She lives in the heart of the Amazon with a group of scientists who have created her to be the perfect image of a girl, including a brilliant girl who will live forever. Her home is the scientific compound called Little Cambridge. Pia appears, from the outside, to have it all at her fingertips, including wildlife and exotic plants to study. Pia wants to be a scientist. She even has a pet jaguar. The scientists, the animals and the books she's allowed to read are her friends. But, Pia yearns for something more. She's isolated and starts to feel trapped by the glass walls protecting her. She's starting to question her surroundings and the people she trusts. Of her precocious character, Khoury says:
"Pia is quick, curious and immortal. She can't be killed, her memory is perfect, and she will never grow old. But she's also intensely lonely. And though she's really smart, her knowledge is limited because everything she learns is tightly controlled and censored by the scientists who created her."
One the night of her 17th birthday, Pia makes a wonderful discovery. She spots a hole in the fence outside her room. Pia seizes her opportunity to find out what's beyond the fence. She doesn't exactly want to leave the safety and security of Little Cam, but she desires to wet her appetite for knowledge. After Pia sets foot outside the fence, she meets a strange and intoxicating young native boy, Eio, who teaches her to not be afraid and to explore the world outside her cage. Khoury explains:
"Eio is wild, brave, and honest. He's a very physical, passionate character who wears his heart on his sleeve (or would if he had sleeves. Usually he doesn't). He loves hunting and climbing and stretching his limits, especially to impress Pia."
Pia and Eio strike up a friendship, and soon Pia finds herself drawn the jungle and Eio. Another surprise for Pia, is a scientist, named Harriet Fields, who arrives at camp. At first, Pia doesn't care for the carefree, spirited and humorous redhead, but she soon warms to her. Along with Eio, Harriet helps Pia to discover the truth about Little Cam, including risking everything to learn about herself. But what Pia also learns is that she can't rely on others to tell her the complete truth. She has to trust her own instincts.
Origin is a phenomenal and impressive novel. Khoury has not only created fascinating and likable characters, but we see the Amazon and all it's splendor and wonder through the eyes of Pia. Of her magical setting, Khoury says:
"I've never been to the Amazon, and in fact, I'd never been to a rainforest of any kind until about two month ago! So as you may imagine, I had to do a ton of research. I read books, combed the internet, watched documentaries on the rainforest and genetic engineering, and even listened to 'sounds of the rainforest' tracks while I wrote."
Khoury did everything she could to make the Amazon as real for readers. She began writing Origin last summer, and finished it in thirty days. Is Khoury still in love with her story? Definitely. What would she like readers to take away with them after reading it?
"I hope that readers walk away asking themselves the same questions Pia must ask herself: questions about mortality, about truth, and about their purpose in this world. I hope that Origin will impress readers beyond mere escapism, and that it truly makes them think more deeply about things."
Khoury tries to write a minimum of 2,000 words a day, unless she's between novels and focusing on promotion. While sipping hot or cold tea, she likes to write at night, alone, with candles which relax her and create atmosphere. Being a debut author with a book that's generating fabulous buzz is a dream come true for her. In her spare time she loves to play soccer. She says she has a whole different personality when she puts on her cleats, and warns everyone to get out of her way! She loves the theater, especially directing plays. Currently, she's teaching youth soccer and a theater class to local students where she lives in Georgia.
Her parting words to her fans and new readers are this:
"Just remember that books are fantastic, but don't forget to live outside of them too! As a teen, I could easily loose myself in books for days and weeks, and had to push myself to sometimes put them down and go outside, to engage in the real world and live my own story. Don't let your only experience of life be vicarious. Make your life an adventure worth reading about!"
Origin was released on July 4th! Pick up a copy and enjoy!
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