Flat Broke: Gary Paulsen
Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: Mid-August Edition

The Fox Inheritance: Mary E. Pearson

Book: The Fox Inheritance: The Jenna Fox Chronicles, Book 2 (WorldCat)
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Pages: 304
Age Range: 13 and up

Cover_FoxInheritance200 I loved Mary Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox. It was a suspenseful, intriguing title that I read in one sitting. The Adoration of Jenna Fox inspired my list of Futuristic, Speculative, Science Fiction and Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults (which I updated recently). So, naturally, I was thrilled when I learned that a sequel was coming (with at least one more to follow). I was even more thrilled when an early copy landed on my doorstep. It went straight to the top of my to read pile.

This review will contain spoilers for The Adoration of Jenna Fox (it would be impossible not to). If you haven't read that book, stop here, and go read it. Jenna Fox #1 is a book that you want to read knowing as little about the conclusion as possible.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox ends with an epilogue that takes place 260 after the main events of the story. The Fox Inheritance picks up shortly after that epilogue, 260 years after a horrific car accident changed forever the lives of three teenage friends. The protagonist of The Fox Inheritance is not Jenna, but instead her friend Locke.

Locke's mind (or technically a backup of his mind) has spent 260 years in a six inch black cube, only able to communicate with their third friend, Kara, imprisoned in another cube. As the story begins, a scientist named Dr. Gatsbro has given Locke and Kara highly functioning new bodies made from Bio Perfect (the next generation of Bio Gel), based on only the tiniest snippets of their original DNA. Locke and Kara have to adjust to a world that has advanced 260 years, a world in which everyone they knew and loved is long dead. Everyone, that is, except for Jenna Fox. Jenna, who left them trapped in the cubes, while she went on to live her own life. Locke is puzzled by Jenna's apparent neglect. Kara is furious (and rather scary).

Although a sequel/companion novel, The Fox Inheritance is a different sort of book from The Adoration of Jenna Fox. The first book looked at a relatively near-term future, and a big chunk of the story involved the puzzle of Jenna figuring out who and what she was. It was the "what is going on here" that was most compelling. The Fox Inheritance, while exploring the same questions of technology and identity, is more of straight-up Dystopia. While there is some uncertainty about various people's motives, it's more an action novel than a mystery. The Fox Inheritance is about Locke's struggle to escape Dr. Gatsbro, find Jenna, and navigate his relationships with the two girls that he loves.

All of this is set against a fascinating future civilization, one in which a civil war has torn the US in two, huge machines sweep bad elements out of the atmosphere (able to clean up after even a nuclear weapon), and everyone is constantly tracked through their IDs. There are still marginalized citizens in Pearson's future world. These include highly evolved "Bots", machines that sometimes develop their own aspirations for freedom. One such Bot, Dot, is a significant character in The Fox Inheritance.

The new world is seen in glimpses via Locke's first-person viewpoint. One gets the sense, as a reader, that there's a lot more to understand than Locke is able to grasp yet (food for future books). What Mary Pearson has done (and I'm not surprised by this, having read her other books) is write a character- and plot-driven story, one that happens to be set against a Dystopian background. This stands head and shoulders above books where the interesting details of the Dystopia are the primary point, and the characters and plot feel secondary. Character and plot over premise and setting, even in a book with an intriguing premise and unique setting. I actually enjoyed the scenes that took place at Jenna's relative throwback of a home more than the more science fiction-y scenes along the way, because this is where the characters really come into their own.

The Fox Inheritance is a book that makes the reader think. About what the world will be like in 260 years. About what it would be like to have no frame of reference at all. About what it means to be a person. About whether or not it's possible for someone who spent 260 years in limbo to have meaningful interactions with someone who has actually lived (and married, and interacted with people) for 260 years. Locke is mentally scarred by what he endured while his mind was in the box. He's also still clearly a teenager, in his thoughts and reactions. Jenna, on the other hand, is appropriately portrayed in the third person in this young adult novel, because she is now an adult (and mother).

Here are a couple of quotes to give you a feel for the book:

"It is strange that I didn't question it more before, but now I can't stop thinking about it. I knew we were illegal, but I just thought it was a technicality, like someone not having the proper passport. It didn't make us bad or less human. It was a bureaucratic snafu, that's what I told myself, something on paper that could be cleared up eventually. It had to be. Everything about me is human. Dr. Gatsbro said so. Eighty percent. Bioengineered with some adjustments, but still human." (Chapter 17, ARC)

"How did I get here? Hiding in the back of a land pirate's truck with fabricated but very cracked ribs, a stolen Bot on one side of me, a likely criminal on the other, and more than two centuries and a dozen lifetimes from who I was? Does any part of the Locke I was even exist anymore?" (Chapter 33, ARC)

Fans of The Adoration of Jenna Fox will NOT want to miss The Fox Inheritance. And if you aren't a fan of Jenna Fox already, I urge you to get out there and read the first book.  Even if you aren't generally a science fiction fan, you'll want to get to know Jenna and her friends. The Jenna Fox Chronicles are books that offer intriguing premises, strong characters, and settings that you can practically see and touch. The Fox Inheritance, while somewhat different in feel from the first book, is a worthy successor to The Adoration of Jenna Fox. I consider both to be must-read titles for anyone, especially Dystopia fans. Highly recommended.I can't wait for the next book!

Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers (@MacKidsBooks). Note that an audio edition is also available.
Publication Date: August 30, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes should be checked against the final printed book.

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.