Friday, November 7, 2014
Vitro by Jessica Khoury is a fast- paced, compelling story about an island with a terrible secret, and the young woman who discovers that secret. The story starts with Sophie Crue in an airport on Guam trying to find a flight to Skin Island. Her mother, a researcher on the island, has sent her an email asking her to come quickly, due to an emergency. Nobody wants to go there however, apparently the island has a bad reputation. After striking out with the local pilots, she runs into Jim Julien, a young pilot who she knows from her childhood days on Guam. Sophie grew up there but hasn't been to Guam in years, since her parents split up and she went to live in Boston with her dad. Her and Jim had been best friends once, but they're older now and have both changed in the intervening years. Jim reluctantly agrees to take Sophie to the island, and that's where the fun begins.
Things go bad quickly, and Sophie and Jim find themselves stranded on the island. Sophie soon discovers a horrifying truth- she has a sister on the island named Lux, but Lux is not just any sister. She has been developed from a test tube embryo by the company her mother works for, but she is not a regular human. And Lux may not be the only one... Sophie must unravel the mystery surrounding the Vitros, her mother and the company behind it all, while at the same time staying alive. No one wants her there, and she and Jim have to survive twists and turns and shocking betrayals
I liked Sophie a lot, she's determined and brave. We get hints of her background and learn just how hard it was for her to grow up not knowing the truth about her mom, and what she does on Skin Island. I liked Jim even more- he seemed like a real person, with real motivations and thoughts. Several times I thought that's exactly how someone might act in that situation. Both characters are very well drawn and believable. The story is told from their alternating perspectives, and this works very well here. It's probably not a spoiler to say there is a romance here- Sophie and Jim have known each other since childhood, and they spend most of the book trying to find each other again- both physically and figuratively- but it did seem like they developed feelings for each other a little fast. Certainly not insta- love, by any means, but they didn't exactly have much time for a courtship. I can accept it though just due to the sheer level of desperation they go through, and the shared history they have. It works.
I have to say something about the writing. The author does a great job evoking a sense of place -as I read I felt like I was in the tropics, with palm trees around, ocean breezes and the silvery moon overhead at night. Her descriptions are at times dripping with tropical heat, creaking bamboo and pounding surf. At the end I felt like I had been on an adventure in the Pacific! Remember that scene in Jurassic Park when they leave the island at the end and they're just exhausted from all the trauma they've been through? That's how this felt for me. That was a great feeling and is one of the reasons I recommend this book so highly. The story has a breakneck pace and I really enjoyed that it took place over just a couple of days. It never slows down and I couldn't stop reading.
We hear several times about a project going on in South America as well- apparently a reference to Jessica's other book. I have not read that but almost certainly will, as I enjoyed this so much. It's nice to have a world with a shadowy organization in the background as the common thread, even though the characters are different. I'm curious to see if she will continue to use this as a background for future novels.
"Before she could get back on her feet, Nicholas was on her. She caught him in the stomach with her feet and threw him over her head, then rolled smoothly into a crouch. Nicholas landed heavily, howling at the pain in his arm.
"Whoa," said Sophie, her eyes wide.
"I know, right?" Jim's voice was hard." Talk about teenage mutant ninja blond. Lux, don't let him touch that detonator."