4.4 78
by Jessica Khoury

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Pia has always known her destiny. She is meant to start a new race, a line of descendants who will bring an end to death. She has been bred for no other purpose, genetically engineered to be immortal and raised by a team of scientists in a secret compound hidden deep in the Amazon rainforest. Now those scientists have begun to challenge her, with the goal of training… See more details below


Pia has always known her destiny. She is meant to start a new race, a line of descendants who will bring an end to death. She has been bred for no other purpose, genetically engineered to be immortal and raised by a team of scientists in a secret compound hidden deep in the Amazon rainforest. Now those scientists have begun to challenge her, with the goal of training her to carry on their dangerous work.
For as long as she can remember, Pia’s greatest desire has been to fulfill their expectations. But then one night she finds a hole in the impenetrable fence that surrounds her sterile home. Free in the jungle for the first time in her life, Pia meets Eio, a boy from a nearby village. Unable to resist, she continues sneaking out to see him. As they fall in love, they begin to piece together the truth about Pia’s origin—a truth with nothing less than deadly consequences that will change their lives forever.
Origin is a beautifully told, electric new way to look at an age-old desire: to live forever. But is eternal life worth living if you can’t spend it with the one you love?

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Khoury's debut captures the lush rhythms of the rainforest. . . . The plot moves at breakneck speed. . . . Utterly refreshing." —Kirkus

"This well-written first novel concerns 17-year-old Pia, who, as the result of advanced genetic engineering, is invulnerable and immortal. . . . [Khoury’s] descriptions of the rainforest and the native people contrast beautifully with the laboratory setting . . . and Pia is a fascinating protagonist." —Publishers Weekly

"This first novel is a gripping read . . . with a clever blend of elements. It is an adventure story with romantic overtones, has a lush exotic setting framed by science, turns the eternal-love concept on its head, and rotates around a compelling moral quandary." —Booklist

"Readers will be thrilled with the page-turning adventure/survival scenes in a descriptive and imaginative setting, and will root for Pia and Eio to the end." —SLJ

"Origin is a startling mystery played out in the vivid and lush Amazon jungle. In this deadly clash of science and nature, a heroine emerges. Pia clawed her way through the pages and left her mark on the landscape of my imagination as the almost tangible danger left me breathless." —Colleen Houck, New York Times bestselling author of Tiger's Curse

"I loved Origin's action, romance, and mystery and I couldn't stop thinking about the questions it raised." —Beth Revis, New York Times bestselling author of Across the Universe

"Is this science fiction? It feels too scarily real. This spellbinding tale of the horrors of genetic engineering gone mad is both thriller and love story, breathlessly paced and beautifully told." —Judy Blundell, National Book Award winning author of What I Saw and How I Lied

"A lush, dreamy page-turner that will live forever in the hearts of its readers. Pia may be the perfect antidote for those suffering from Katniss withdrawal." —Josh Sundquist, author of the national bestseller Just Don't Tell

Publishers Weekly
Set in a secret scientific compound in the depths of the Amazon, this well-written first novel concerns 17-year-old Pia, who, as the result of advanced genetic engineering, is invulnerable and immortal. The scientists who created her are fanatics, morally compromised by their work; they’ve raised her to be what they see as the ideal scientist—rational, objective, and heartless—repeatedly telling her, “You are immortal, Pia, and you are perfect.” Her sole purpose, they say, is to eventually create more immortals. Pia, who has never been outside the compound and knows nothing about the world beyond, is content with this role until, sneaking through a hole in the fence one night, she meets Eio, an indigenous boy her age, who shows her that there is significantly more to life than she knows. Khoury’s scientists are mostly one-dimensional monsters, and their scientific protocols (keeping knowledge of geography and culture from Pia) make little sense. Her descriptions of the rainforest and the native people contrast beautifully with the laboratory setting, however, and Pia is a fascinating protagonist. Ages 12–up. Agent: Lucy Carson, the Friedrich Agency. (Sept.)
VOYA - Jennifer Rummel
Should humans live forever? It has taken five generations for scientists in the Little Cam compound to create an immortal human. Pia, the first immortal, has been raised to become a scientist and follow their teachings to create a new immortal race. As soon as she is old enough, she will learn the secrets of Little Cam. On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, she discovers a hole in the fence. She sneaks out into the surrounding forest, in which she has never set foot. There she meets Eio, a handsome boy who makes her question her world, her life, and her dreams. Khoury pens a unique and engrossing debut novel with a dystopian feel. Pia's life has seemed easy until the eve of her birthday. Out in the Amazon, Pia discovers an entirely new world. Slowly, her eyes are opened to new possibilities that make it hard for her to return to her previous life. Teens will connect with Pia's struggles with authority and her attempts to discover what she wants for herself and her life, instead of blindly following someone else's plans. The danger, action, and romance will keep readers turning the pages. Reviewer: Jennifer Rummel
Children's Literature - Sarah Maury Swan
Pia is immortal and, according just about everybody at "Little Cam," she's perfect. She dreams of becoming a scientist and a member of the "Immortis" team, but she has to pass tests to fulfill her dream and the tests are increasingly gruesome and seemingly senseless. Still, she wants to be the origin of a new race; to have other immortals around who will understand her. On her seventeenth birthday, the rest of the facility throws her a party. Even her stern Uncle Paolo seems to have a good time and the newest scientist, Harriet, gives Pia a present—a map of the world. Thoughts of being outside the electrified chain link fence exploring the Amazonian jungle she lives in, stir in the young woman's head. She takes advantage of a hole in the fence and, with her pet jaguar, discovers a whole new world of wonder. To make things even more confusing, Pia meets Eio, a boy about her age from the Ai'oa tribe. She keeps sneaking out to be with Eio and his village. Together they discover the horrible truth of what sacrifices were made in the name of making a better human race, and Pia finally realizes the tests she has to pass are to prepare her for the task of killing people to further research into immortality. And she wants no part of it. An intriguing story, well told, this novel will appeal to sci-fi/romance-loving teen girls. But the epilogue was an unnecessary appendage, not really having much to do with Pia. Reviewer: Sarah Maury Swan
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Genetically bred to be immortal, Pia has never been outside Little Cam, the research compound where she was born. Hidden beneath the jungle cover of an Amazon rainforest and surrounded by electric fencing and security monitors, she spends her days studying and being groomed to become the leader of a new race of immortals, including taking a battery of "Wickham tests" designed to make her callous to human weaknesses. As her 17th birthday approaches, questions about the outside world are squelched by lead scientist Uncle Paolo and his staff. The arrival of free-spirited Dr. Harriet Fields and her gift of a world map compels Pia to seize an opportunity to squeeze through broken fencing to explore her environs. In the jungle she meets Eio, an English-speaking 18-year-old Ai'oan village boy conceived from a liaison between one of the scientists and his mother. Tension mounts as Pia jeopardizes security for outings with Eio and the villagers and becomes emboldened to investigate sinister truths about a long-ago accident at Little Cam. Details about the magical leaves of the native Kapok tree and their role in developing five generations of immortals ties the setting to the plot and serves to explain Pia's physical anomalies. Pia frequently waffles between loyalty to her Little Cam family and Eio's warnings about their motives, believably reflecting the naïveté of a sheltered teen. Readers will be thrilled with the page-turning adventure/survival scenes in a descriptive and imaginative setting, and will root for Pia and Eio to the end.—Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY
Kirkus Reviews
A surprising first novel set deep in the Amazonian rainforest. Inside the electric fence surrounding the secret compound known as Little Cam, scientists have labored for years to create one immortal person. Pia, now 16, has lightning-fast reflexes, inexhaustible stamina, and a body impervious to sickness or injury. She is the perfect creation of the current lead scientist, whom she calls Uncle Paolo, but she is also his pawn, and her still-human soul has begun to chafe at the restrictions and isolation that surround her. When a storm causes a break in the fence, Pia ventures into the jungle, meeting and becoming intrigued by Eio, a boy her age belonging to a nearby tribe, the Ai'oans. Eio speaks English and knows more about Little Cam than Pia does about the outside world. Then a female scientist comes to Little Cam and bolsters Pia's growing sense of rebellion. Gradually she uncovers the secrets and tragedies that led to her immortality. Khoury's debut captures the lush rhythms of the rainforest. Her characters, dialogue and pacing are clean and accomplished, and the plot moves at breakneck speed. As the book progresses toward its emotionally satisfying but logically puzzling ending, cracks start to show in the science of her dystopian world, but by then readers will hardly notice--and will certainly easily forgive. A teen thriller/romance without werewolves, wizards or vampires--utterly refreshing. (Science fiction. 13 & up)

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Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.12(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Jessica Khoury is of Syrian and Scottish descent, and was born and raised in Toccoa, Georgia. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Toccoa Falls College. She still lives in Toccoa with her husband, Ben, where she writes and coaches youth soccer. Origin is her first novel. You can visit her online at www.jessicakhoury.com.

Read an Excerpt

I take a step back as he reaches his full height, my flashlight still aimed at his face. “What do you want with me? Where—where are you from?”

“You’re the one who crashed into me.” He is taller than me, and though he is thin, he is very muscular. I can tell because he’s half-naked. He’s wearing khaki shorts and a cord around his neck from which hangs a tiny jaguar carved into jade, but nothing else, not even shoes. His skin is the color of a shelled Brazil nut, light, warm brown, the brown of days spent in the dappled sun of the rainforest. His hair is as black as the night around us and thick with tangles. There is something vaguely familiar about his face, but I can’t think of what it is. That’s very disconcerting for me, since I forget nothing. If I had seen this boy before, I would remember it. And not just because my memory is perfect. I’d remember those eyes . . . that sculpted chest . . . the definition of his abdomen. . . .

I snap my eyes up to his face, whipping my thoughts back into line. My initial fear gives way to anger. “What are you doing out here, anyway? It’s the middle of the night. Where are your clothes?”

He replies, remarkably calmly, “You’ve wandered far from your cage, Pia bird.”

“What?” I ask blankly.

“The dress,” he says, nodding at it. “It makes you look like a bird. The kind we Ai’oa like to keep on our shoulders. But that’s not a good thing to be running around the jungle in.”

I look down at my torn dress. “It’s my birthday.” Furious, I glare at him, refusing to let him distract me. Again. “Ai’oa? What is that?”

He presses a hand to his bare chest. “We are a who, not a what.”

“Are you a native?” “I’m Ai’oan. Only the scientists call us natives.” He cocks his head curiously. “Are you a scientist? I think you must be, because you are of the Little Cam village.”

“No. Yes. I mean, I will be soon. How did you know where I’m from? Have you been to Little Cam?” Fear had turned to anger, but my anger now transforms into fascination. I’ve never spoken with anyone from outside Little Cam. Harriet Fields doesn’t count because now she’s from Little Cam too.

“I’ve seen it,” he says, “but only from the trees. It is no place for the Ai’oa. Kapukiri says there is evil in the village of the scientists.”

“Little Cam isn’t evil,” I reply, bristling. “What do you know about it?”

“Only what Kapukiri says.” He kneels and stares curiously at Alai. “He obeys your command and follows where you go. Incredible. Truly, you are blessed to have such a companion.”

His words soften me, and I warm a little. “Is your village close?” Eio’s eyes narrow suspiciously. “Why? What do you want with Ai’oa?”

“I want to see it,” I say on a whim. “Show it to me.” “I don’t know. . . .” He frowns. “That smoke I smell, is it from Ai’oa?” I close my eyes and breathe deeply. “It’s coming from . . . that direction.” I open my eyes and start to follow the scent. When I look back, Eio is staring at me with wide eyes.

“You . . .” He runs to catch up with me. “You can smell it from here?”

“Ah . . .” I swallow and backpedal a bit. “Well, can’t you?”

Uncertainty plays openly across his face. “I guess . . . if you promise not to wake everyone . . .”

“I swear.”

“Well . . . okay.” He still seems uneasy. I take it that visitors aren’t often invited to Ai’oa.

I follow him over fallen logs made soft with mosses and under low-hanging vines and limbs. I wonder how he’ll see where he’s going, but he seems to feel his way rather than see it. I thought I moved silently through the jungle, but Eio seems to float over the ground rather than walk on it. He moves as sinuously as a snake and as lightly as a butterfly. Alai stays between us at all times, showing his mistrust in his hackles and rigid tail.

Before long I smell smoke, then I see the fires from which it comes. They burn low, more embers than flames, several dozen of them. Around the fires are huts made of four poles and thatched with palm leaves. They have no walls. When we reach the edge of the village, Eio stops me. “They are sleeping. It is never good to wake what is sleeping. Stay here and look, but don’t wake them.”

“You’re awake,” I point out.

“I couldn’t sleep. I heard a jaguar and went looking for it.” He looks down at Alai. I remember Alai’s roars as we escaped through the fence. “Is it a good idea to hunt jaguars? Seems to me they’d end up hunting you.”

Eio sits on a mossy rock, arms crossed over his bare chest. “Not to catch one! To see it. It is a powerful sign, the glimpse of the jaguar.”

“I see a jaguar every day,” I say, reaching down to rub Alai’s ears.

“It is a thing unheard of.” He shakes his head. “In the jungle, the jaguar is king. He follows no one but himself, and we Ai’oa fear and respect him and call him guardian.”

“Alai’s just a big baby, really.”

Eio gives a short laugh. “Of course. That’s why he tried to bite the nose off my face!”

“How do you know English? Uncle Paolo told me you natives were ignorant about everything outside your own villages.”

“I’m not ignorant,” Eio objects. “It is you who are ignorant, Pia bird. My father taught me English.”

“Your father?”

“He is a scientist like you, in Little Cam.”

“Really!” I blink and stare at him with astonishment. Well, well, someone’s been hiding a really big secret. . . . “Who is it? What’s his name?” I think of all the scientists, wondering who it could be.

“I don’t know his name. To me, he is only Papi. He comes and teaches me English and math and writing.”

“What does he look like?”

Eio shrugs. “Ugly, like all scientists.”

I frown. “You think I’m ugly?” “Of course,” he says, staring toward his village.

I feel my face flush with anger. “That’s the meanest thing anyone has ever said to me! I’m not ugly! I’m . . .” I look down at my muddy, bedraggled dress, and my voice falls to an embarrassed whisper. “I’m perfect.”

“Perfect? Is that why you’re running around in the jungle, making noise like a tapir running from the spear, in a dress?”

“I—it’s my birthday. . . . I wanted to see the jungle. I’ve never been outside Little Cam before. I wanted to feel what it was like to be outside, in the wild.” “Are you a prisoner, Pia bird?”

“No,” I say, startled.

“Why have you never left, then?”

“I—they say it’s dangerous. Anacondas.”

“Anacondas! I have killed an anaconda.”

“You have?”

“Yes. It was as long as I am tall, and I am the tallest Ai’oan in the village. I made its skin into a belt for Papi.”

“I’ve only seen an anaconda once. It was dead too. Uncle Timothy shot it.”

“With a gun?”

“Of course with a gun!”

“I don’t like guns. I hunt with dart and spear and arrow. These are silent and will not scare away your prey like a stupid gun.”

I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but the night is growing even darker. “I should go back now.” It’s been much, much longer than an hour. My delirious rush of adrenaline leaves me weary and nervous. I want to get back, to change and shower before my absence is noticed. If it hasn’t been noticed already.

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