Dramatic irony — simply, the idea that the audience knows something that the character doesn’t — is a common tension-building storytelling device. From the point of view of the audience, it’s oppositional from the “plot twist,” where the character(s) and the audience are both in the dark and they figure out the crucial, shocking bit of information at the same time, and it completely transforms the story, both moving forward and retroactively.
There are the stories that play both sides. They don’t explicitly inform the audience what’s going on, but there are enough strong hints dropped that when the bolt of inspiration comes, it’s not exactly a surprise. I’m not here to call this gambit wholly effective or not across the board, but I do feel like it’s risky when you allow your audience to be better detectives than your character. It’s one thing to tell your audience upfront and let the tension ratchet itself up because the characters are acting without all of the information; it’s another to base the tension on the unraveling of the mystery itself, when it’s only really a mystery to the character and the audience has mostly already figured it out.
If it isn’t clear, this is a rather glaring problem with The Adoration of Jenna Fox. Here is what we know in the first chapter: a person who has no memory of her life — no situational memory, no sense of emotional attachment to the people who are supposed to be her family, no particular attachment to the idea of herself as Jenna Fox — has woken up from a coma after a horrific accident. She is uncomfortable in her body, perhaps in the sense that she needs to regain movement after serious injury, but also that something like smiling doesn’t come naturally to her; she has to remind herself how it works in response to when people would expect her to be smiling. She’s not allowed to eat normal food, only “nutrients.” She thinks in a stilted, matter-of-fact fashion, frequently defining words for herself mentally before answering questions that people have posed to her. It’s also immediately clear that her parents and grandmother are hiding something from her, and her grandma in particular is actively discomfited by her. Finally, there’s enough opening technological detail that we can surmise the setting is a more advanced time: her physical progress is evaluated through non-invasive “scans,” and her family possesses “discs” that chronicle Jenna’s entire life from her time in utero to just before her accident.
Frankly, just the above is kind of enough for anyone who is familiar with sci-fi to connect the dots, but I’ll be a good sport and let you know that the rest of this paragraph may constitute a SPOILER. By the time we find out — still rather early on, when Jenna starts at a “special” school — that Jenna’s dad owns one of the premier biotech companies in the world that’s particularly well known for pioneering a gel that can grow just about anything, it’s just the final light bulb in the marquee that spells out “Jenna’s a Cylon!” The remainder of the time that she takes to figure this out is spent by a lot of mental dithering, regaining spotty memories and dealing with the disconnect between herself in the present and the idea of Jenna Fox that she is supposed to be.
It’s rather tedious. It also doesn’t help that I reserve the biggest side-eye in the world for books that use Science as a scapegoat for Shit Having Gone Wrong, or that set it up kind of diametrically opposed to ethics and morality, particularly when they do that by conflating unsound, implausible, or immoral scientific technology with real, neutral technology and taint the latter by association. The Adoration of Jenna Fox tries, I think, to be nuanced with various issues, and does indeed do a good job of raising interesting questions related to those issues, but it’s also definitely guilty of acting like Science is out of control and implying that there’s a willing blindness to let it advance in an unpredictable fashion just to see how far it goes, like we’re getting drunk on technology.
As you can tell, I had Issues with this book, but there was a lot I appreciated as well. Unfortunately, this review is getting long in the tooth and I’m just tired of writing it. I’ll say that if any of the above sounds interesting and not played out to you, this book does look at it from a few new angles, particularly when it comes to parent-child relationships. It’s potentially worth the read, but just be prepared for a bit of a slog until the “reveal.”