Jenna Fox wakes up suddenly from what her parents tell her was a year-long coma. Apparently there was a terrible car accident and she only just barely survived. Jenna’s memory of her life before waking up is gone, so she doesn’t question this. However, even a newly awakened teenaged girl is not so clueless and naïve as to not notice there is something very weird about her situation. Why did they apparently move to this secluded house in California mere days or hours before Jenna woke up – was that coincidence? Why has no one from her old life sent any cards or emails? Why does her grandmother treat her so coldly? As Jenna watches old home movies, her memory comes back in fits and starts – and then a bad cut on her hand (and her parents’ extreme reaction to this) leads her to the discovery that she is not the same Jenna who existed before the accident. In fact, she is only 10% original Jenna, and the rest is software and high-tech bio-stuff.
There are two issues at the heart of this story. The lesser issue is that of ethics, medical and personal – in re-constituting Jenna (so to speak), her parents have broken laws created in order to prevent abuses of power and contamination of natural species by manmade materials. Do parents have a right to break laws to keep their daughter alive? Are the laws wrong? Can people use science and technology wisely? Can you get the genie back in the bottle once it’s unleashed? There is also the matter of two other teens who have been “uploaded” into computers – a “copy” of their personalities and memories exists, but their bodies have been destroyed. Is it ethical to delete them? Is it ethical to let them continue to exist with no input of any kind going in or coming out – isn’t that a kind of hell?
Which leads to the most interesting question – what makes a person a person? Is personhood dependent on one’s physical body or it just a matter of a ghost in a machine that could be moved from one body to another without the person’s essence changing? If a person is just a collection of continuous memories and thoughts, what happens when someone loses her memory and has to start fresh? Is she an entirely new person now, even after the memories are artificially injected back into her?
After Jenna realizes that her own grandmother treats her coldly because she hasn’t accepted that this new girl, who looks like the old Jenna, really IS the old Jenna, Jenna herself begins to question who she is. Her body is not human and her responses are all programmed – so is she a human or a machine? And if she is human and has a soul, is this the old Jenna’s soul or a brand-new one? And does that really matter in the long run?
The conclusion that Jenna comes to a happy one – she is who she is and what she does, as we all are in the end. Her clumsy stumblings toward this conclusion, as she relearns how to connect with other people, are funny and painful and make for an engrossing read. Highly recommended.
Gr. 8 - 12