By Mary E. Pearson
Published April 2008 by Henry Holt & Co.
Source: my daughter checked it out from the school library
**review contains possible spoilers**
Jenna, 17, has just awoken from the coma that she has been in for more than a year following a terrible accident. She has no memory of the mother and grandmother that she is living with or the father who made his fortune in biotechnology and who spends most of his time across the country. Fortunately, Jenna was a treasured child and much of her life has been preserved on video discs; there's a disc for every year of her life. But Jenna has no recollection of any of the events on the discs and has no connection to the girl in videos with the same name.
Gradually memories begin to return. Most of them are very detailed memories of very small parts of her life. But there are also memories of friends that are no longer in her life. And the memories begin to create more questions than they do answers. For one thing, why can she remember whole passages from Thoreau but not remember what her old room looked like? And why can she remember being in her mother's womb? Jenna's also trying to figure out why her grandmother does seem to like her (something she's sure wasn't the case before the accident), why her parents won't allow her to return to school and why her room and clothes seem so impersonal. The answers will come from everyone and everything around her.
Set in the not too distant future, California has experienced the "big one" and much of that state has fallen into the ocean, leaving what's left badly damaged. Planting of non-native species of plants has resulted in the extinction of many native species of trees, shrubs and flowers. Overuse of antibiotics as resulted in super viruses that cannot be contained by any medication. A world-wide virus has killed millions of people. Because of this, an ethics board has been set up that is in charge of governing medical technology and to set up a point system for all lifesaving technology. The reader is asked again and again to question the choices that mankind has made.
This is the first true YA novel that I have read since I was regularly reading YA novels in my youth. It did take me a while to adjust to that level of storytelling. But this is definitely not a book that talks down to young people or that would strictly appeal to young people. It deals with the very grownup issues of ethics and what constitutes a "soul." It asks the question, how far would you go to save someone you love?
This book does contain some plotting issues that bothered me. For one thing, why does Jenna enroll in school under her own name if her family is so well known and she's supposed to be in hiding? Also, there's a neighborhood boy who is also a schoolmate of Jenna's that poses a threat which is never resolved. But the pacing and writing are so well done, that I was able to overlook these things. Midway through the book, Pearson reveals the big truth about Jenna. What, I thought, is she doing? Why would I want to keep reading now that I know this? The answer is because Pearson is not done with the reader yet. Knowing the "what" does not reveal the"why" and only serves to make Jenna's situation appear all the more perilous.
I highly recommend this book for anyone high-school aged or older.