This science fiction, coming-of-age book by Jessica Khoury is the first in the "Corpus" series and is published by Razorbill, an imprint of the Penguin Group. Origin is written for kids ages 13 to 17. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Pia is no ordinary teenage girl. The result of a century-long genetics project has made her immortal. Pia lives with her mother and a group of scientists and support staff in Little Cam — a secure compound deep in the Amazon jungle. Unfortunately for Pia, the genetic line that was supposed to produce an immortal mate for her ended in an "accident" 30 years earlier. To become a member of the Immortis team, which will engineer another Mr. Perfect, Pia must first pass a series of tests, called "Wickham tests," to prove that she is capable of prioritizing the best interests of the group above the well-being of the individual. Although Pia's abilities include superhuman intelligence, she struggles with the Wickham tests, as she hates to cause pain to any human or animal, even if it's for the greater good.
Pia's scientist caretakers (whom she refers to as aunts and uncles, because many are, in fact, her relatives) keep her insulated from any knowledge about the outside world. On her 17th birthday, a tree falls on the electric fence that separates Little Cam from the rest of the world. Pia and her pet jaguar, Alai, venture through the gap and into the jungle. She runs into Eio, a boy her own age who lives with the Ai'oans — a tribe of natives living near the compound. Eio's father is one of the scientists who lives and works at Little Cam, and his mother is an Ai'oan who passed away when he was a young child. Before Pia returns to Little Cam, Eio gives her a flower and asks her to meet him again soon.
Back in Little Cam, the head scientist, Uncle Paolo, is performing an experiment on the oldest immortal rat in the lab. While the Immortis serum (created by pairing the nectar of the elysia flower with a catalyst) can create immortal beings after five generations of injected test subjects, drinking the nectar itself kills any being that is not immortal. At first, Roosevelt, the immortal rat, shows no ill effects from drinking the nectar. But then he dies, as the others did before him.
Pia decides to secretly visit the Ai'oan village, where the medicine man Kapukiri prophesies that she has come to save them. She falls asleep in the village overnight. When she arrives back at Little Cam, the scientists have discovered the gap in the fence. With the help of a recently arrived scientist, Aunt Harriet, Pia manages to fool the others into thinking she never left. Aunt Harriet offers to help her sneak out in the future.
Little Cam is thrown into chaos when it's announced that they are expecting visitors from Corpus — the company that funds their research. With the help of Aunt Harriet, Pia leaves the compound and spends the day with Eio and his adopted sister, Ami. Pia and Ami are almost killed by an anaconda before Eio kills it with a single arrow through the head.
Pia returns to Little Cam to find that the visitors have arrived early, and her absence barely escapes detection. The visitors insist that Pia must take the final Wickham test early. She is given a week to decide to euthanize an ocelot kitten named Sneeze, who is a carrier of FIV (the feline form of AIDS). Uncertain about what to do, Pia puts it off and scales the electric fence and visits Eio. But the scientists are beginning to become suspicious about her absences. When one of the scientists, Uncle Antonio, shaves his beard, Pia notices the similarity between him and Eio, and realizes that he must be Eio's father. Uncle Antonio tries to convince Pia that Little Cam is evil (although he won't say why) and that she must escape to the city of Manaus with Eio. Pia and Eio are both attracted to each other, but Pia can't picture herself with a mortal who will eventually grow old while she stays young and perfect. She decides to stay in Little Cam and join the Immortis team.
However, Pia can't convince herself to euthanize Sneeze. Against Pia's will, her mother kills Sneeze and gives Pia the credit. Now part of the Immortis team, Pia journeys into the jungle with a team of scientists to retrieve a vial of elysia nectar from the grove of flowers. Eio secretly communicates with Pia, begging her to visit the Ai'oan village that night. She complies, and Kapukiri tells her a legend about the origins of the elysia flower. Pia realizes that the spores of the flower are in her tears. The catalyst, which the nectar must be mixed with to neutralize its lethality, is sacrificed human blood.
Unwilling to believe that the scientists who raised her are murderers, Pia returns to Little Cam where she is invited to administer the first dose of the serum to Uncle Paolo (who will be a great grandfather to her future mate). But then she realizes that Ami is the human about to be sacrificed to create the serum. In fact, the scientists have been killing off members of the Ai'oan community for almost a century in their quest to create immortal beings like Pia. The "accident" that occurred 30 years ago happened when two of the subjects, Alex and Marian, fled Little Cam in rebellion against these immoral practices. Alex and Marian died in their escape attempt, and the scientists also murdered many more of Pia's ancestors in the name of research.
Pia refuses to kill Ami and manages to help her escape. But when Eio comes to Little Cam to tell Pia he loves her, the scientists capture him and try to force Pia to inject Eio with the lethal elysia nectar to create the serum. Uncle Antonio bursts into the room at the last second and holds the scientists at gunpoint. The trio nearly escapes when Pia's biological father, Uncle Will, opens the compound gates for them. But when Uncle Paolo tries to convince them to stay, Pia's mother sneaks up and holds Uncle Antonio hostage with a syringe of elysia nectar. Uncle Antonio steps back, impaling himself on the needle and sacrificing himself so Pia and Eio can escape. Eio sustains a gunshot wound in the shoulder, and Pia leaves him hidden in the jungle while she proceeds to the Ai'oan village and convinces the villagers that they should not attack Little Cam. Instead, Pia and the villagers destroy all of the elysia plants and throw the flowers in the river so the scientists will have no reason to stay.
However, that is not enough. Pia's confidante, Aunt Harriet, told Uncle Paolo that Pia can grow new elysia plants from her tears. He tricks her into surrendering by lying and saying that they have captured Eio. Rather than submit to Uncle Paolo's plan to have her grow new elysia plants for the rest of her life, Pia finds one of the elysia flowers the villagers cast into the river and drinks the nectar just as Eio appears out of the jungle and fatally shoots Uncle Paolo with an arrow. The rest of the scientists leave at the villagers' arrow points, and Pia waits to die in Eio's arms.
Instead, she wakes up the next day in the Ai'oan village. Rather than killing her, the elysia nectar simply reversed the effects of immortality. Roosevelt the rat died of old age, but Pia is only 17. She realizes that she has a full — though mortal — life ahead of her. She and Eio kiss. Aunt Harriet, the only scientist left behind in Little Cam, lives with the Ai'oans for several months before returning to civilization. Pia chooses to live in the jungle with Eio and the rest of the Ai'oans.
In the Ai'oan village, Uncle Antonio stores a collection of items that would be illegal in Little Cam, including a well-worn Bible. Pia speculates that it is his favorite book.
Pia uses almost biblical language to refer to the many people who were murdered so the scientists could create her, describing them as those "who died that [she] might live." She rationalizes Uncle Antonio's self-sacrifice in a near paraphrase of John 15:13, believing that the "noblest life is the one laid down for another." When telling the Ai'oan myth about the origins of elysia, Kapukiri tells Pia that "there cannot be life without the shedding of blood."
The only scientist left in the jungle, Aunt Harriet spends several months with the Ai'oan people. She is inspired to live well because she knows that eventually everyone must face eternity. Aunt Harriet believes that by passing her Wickham test (killing a horse), she committed a sin.
Other Belief Systems
The scientists compare Pia to a goddess. They believe that she is above morality. Uncle Paolo believes there is no such thing as right or wrong, that life is the greatest good and that by having more life than anyone else, Pia's existence trumps any debate on religion or morality. He admits to doing unnamed acts that most people would consider evil but that he sees as compassionate — including culling the weak to benefit humanity as a whole. Uncle Paolo affectionately calls Roosevelt a rat god. He tells Pia that by cheating death, they have become gods themselves.
The Ai'oans are pantheistic. They pray to multiple gods and believe in interacting with the spirit world. They believe that seeing a jaguar brings good luck and that Pia must have powerful magic because she commands Alai's respect. Kapukiri, an Ai'oan medicine man, is also a village leader. Eio claims that Kapukiri can see the future, heal the sick and walk in the spirit world without the use of hallucinogens. In a scene similar to demon possession, Kapukiri has what appears to be a seizure before declaring that Pia has come to save the Ai'oans.
Eio believes that the spirits sent Pia. He tells Pia an Ai'oan creation myth about a hunter who falls to earth after chasing an armadillo through the sky. He brings his tribe to earth, and they become the world's first people. Eio takes the myth lightheartedly, but later Kapukiri tells Pia and the other villagers a legend surrounding the origin of the elysia plant, which the Ai'oans take much more seriously.
In it, humans pray to the gods, who send them a protector out of whose tears springs the elysia plant. The village elders drink the nectar when they are ready to die, and a drop of their blood is placed on the tongues of the villagers. Immortal protectors, such as Pia, are born every generation until a chief is born who tries to keep immortality for only himself. He sees the error of his ways when an invading tribe kills all the members of his village. The Ai'oans don't continue the practice of drinking elysia nectar and believe that no one should live forever. One of the Ai'oan women tells Pia that the scientists are being too impatient and that after death everyone will drink elysia and attain immortality.
Uncle Antonio teaches Eio and Ami the following Shakespeare quote: "Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven." Aunt Nénine, the laundress, is afraid of ghosts. She, unlike the scientists, believes in angels.
There is one misuse of the Lord's name. The terms d--n and b--tard are also used.
To produce one immortal, five generations of human subjects must be repeatedly injected with the Immortis serum. For each dose of serum produced, a human must be killed because the serum is produced by injecting the lethal elysia nectar into a living human and then withdrawing the person's still-warm blood after death and immediately injecting it into the test subject. Over the last century, the scientists have sacrificed dozens of people — mostly Ai'oan natives — to create Pia.
Animals are killed during testing procedures. A sparrow is repeatedly electrocuted. Rats and a baby ocelot are euthanized. While swimming, Ami is attacked by an anaconda. It releases Ami only when Pia throws a rock at its head. It seizes and attempts to drown and swallow Pia but is killed by Eio who shoots it in the head with an arrow.
All scientists must pass a Wickham test before coming on staff at Little Cam. Aunt Harriet's Wickham test was to shoot a horse. Uncle Paolo poisoned a fellow researcher. The scientists demonstrate Pia's immortality by scraping her skin with sharp scalpels, which do no visible damage but are still painful. Pia scratches ineffectively at her wrists in despair.
Kapukiri tells Pia a legend about a tribe of people called the Face-Eaters, who killed people to become stronger, and then made their faces into coats for their babies. In a lab that was supposed to have been destroyed by fire, Pia sees bloodstains, chains and scrapes that look like they had been left by fingernails clawing at the wall. She learns that her genetic ancestors were imprisoned there and used for experimental testing until they died.
Alex and Marian died in their escape attempt. Whether their pursuers shot them or they committed suicide by drowning themselves and their unborn baby girl is unclear. Uncle Paolo and the other scientists try to force Pia to kill Ami to create the Immortis serum. Several people are injured in the chaos that ensues when she refuses. Ami loses a lot of blood when a tube in her arm comes loose. Eio is electrocuted repeatedly when he tries to climb the electric fence. Pia hits a guard with a metal pipe.
Pia deliberately releases a terrarium filled with flesh-eating ants that have a taste for human blood. Pia's mother holds Uncle Antonio hostage with a syringe of elysia. Uncle Antonio commits suicide by stepping backward and impaling himself on the syringe, allowing Pia and Eio to escape. Two scientists and an anaconda are shot and killed with Ai'oan arrows.
After several near misses, Pia and Eio kiss at the end of the book. They also dance together and hold hands. Pia finds Eio's body fascinating, and struggles to keep her eyes off his naked torso. He tells her that he loves her and gives her a necklace that symbolizes that she belongs to him and to the Ai'oans. When Aunt Harriet sees a picture of Eio, she remarks on his handsomeness and tells Pia that he is the kind of guy that a girl would like to wake up to. She confides that when she was a teen, she had as many as three boyfriends at a time.
Although the invention of in vitro fertilization made human genetic engineering less awkward, Alex and Marian, who were generational contemporaries of Pia's grandparents, became life partners and conceived naturally. Uncle Antonio and Aunt Harriet dance together at Pia's 17th birthday party. Pia wonders if they are in love.
Many Ai'oans wear scant clothing, and some of the women go topless. Pia takes off her tank top and soaks it in river water to revive an exhausted Eio. Eio jokes that too much of a certain jungle fruit can make a man look like a woman — even to the point of becoming a wet nurse.
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