A survey of Mary E. Pearson’s seven novels to date reveals an interesting trend. Namely, all of her protagonists are the same age: 17.
“That’s true! You’re the only one who’s noticed that and asked about it,” Pearson says in a call from her home in Carlsbad, California. “I just like that age. . . . You’re as old as you can be as a teenager and not considered an adult.”
Plus, she explains, “It might sound weird, but I feel like I had all of my adult sensibilities at 17, my world outlook. Hopefully I’ll always continue to change, and I have been changing, but I do feel like I was pretty much aware of the world then. I think the decisions we make at that age are adult decisions, and they last us a lifetime.”
That’s certainly true of Locke Jenkins, the 17-year-old at the heart of Fox Forever, the third and final installment of Pearson’s Jenna Fox Chronicles.
Readers first became aware of Locke in the first book, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, as one in a tight-knit trio of teens: Jenna, Locke and Kara. In that first volume, Jenna told her story, an astonishing, often disturbing tale—one in which her friends seemingly disappeared under tragic circumstances.
In book two, The Fox Inheritance, Locke recounted what had happened to him and Kara: Like Jenna, their minds were kept alive after a terrible car accident, their only physical form a couple of cubes sitting on a shelf. But unlike Jenna, who awoke after a year, Locke’s and Kara’s minds were kept in a terrifying limbo for 260 years. As they travel to a reunion with Jenna, the two must face a new reality: They’re 17, but also 277—and while their existence arguably represents a triumph of science, it’s also illegal.
Now, in Fox Forever, it’s time for Locke to strike out on his own. He wants to return to Boston, where he’s from, and search for any traces of his family. At Jenna’s urging, he’s adjusting to life as a young man who in many ways is the 17-year-old he appears to be, yet has endured things that have aged him well beyond most people. And most urgently, he needs to repay the help, or Favor, extended to him by an underground resistance group known as the Network . . . an endeavor that will be much more complicated than he anticipates.
The near-future world Pearson has created is carefully constructed and vividly depicted, from the Network to the intricate transportation system to the memorable Bots, who are programmed to be loyal but dare to have their own dreams, too.
Says Pearson, “I grew up watching ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Lost in Space,’ so the idea of something that is really like a robot but has much more humanity to it—this story gave me a chance to explore that. I’m always interested in exploring what makes us human, the differences between humans, is one person more human than another. . . .”
She adds, “Another thing I liked exploring, probably more than anything, is our relationships and how they feed and nurture us. [For some of the characters], there’s probably not any actual genetic connection after so many generations, but now they still need somebody to feel connected to this world. . . . I have to say, I cried like a baby when [certain key characters] met. I like it when a scene makes me cry—this was one of those instances where I felt like I was outside of myself and really watching it happen.”
Pearson also raises questions about science and technology, and whether the benefits of scientific advances outweigh the repercussions. It makes for a heady read, because it leads to larger questions about the effects our choices can have—not just now, but also rippling ahead through time in ways we can’t even imagine.
“I always love how science says one thing, and then a few years later, it’s ‘Maybe this is possible after all,’” Pearson says. “Science is kind of an art, too. There’s always something being discovered and unfolding, and that’s what makes it exciting.”
Pearson also enjoys writing about the near-ish future—just a few hundred years ahead—because some of the things she describes aren’t really that unlikely. “I did a lot of research, like with the colonization of Mars. Scientists are predicting it, and we’re already landing things on Mars, so it’s not so far-fetched that we’ll have people out there by then,” she says. But just in case, she’s glad that the futuristic setting means “No one can ever tell me if I was right or wrong!”
Clearly, her enthusiasm for scientific inquiry has struck a chord, to judge by all the letters she receives from science teachers. “A lot of them are using the Fox series as the literature in their science classrooms, which I think is pretty cool,” she says. “I do love exploring gray areas. The books don’t give answers, I hope, they just raise questions, and I think that’s why they’re using them.”
Pearson is certain, though, that regardless of technology or time period, “there are some things that never change, the things that truly matter.” That notion is physically embodied by the locations Pearson chose for Fox Forever, which begins in California and moves to Boston, where Locke returns for the bulk of the book’s goings-on involving the Network, numerous Bots, political intrigue and new friends and enemies. “It’s a fun thing in a futuristic book to have that old history. In The Adoration of Jenna Fox, the mission . . . in California terms, that’s old, a few hundred years. And that’s one of the things we always try to hold onto—our heritage. Since Boston is the birthplace of our country, it was a great place to have so much of Fox Forever take place.”
Bringing such a complex, thought-provoking, action-packed trilogy to a close was no small task, not least because Pearson initially had no intention of writing a series. In fact, she says, “There was a point in my life when I said I’d never write a series! I always wanted to try something new and challenging, but I realized that, after writing all different kinds of books, writing a series was a challenge.”
Pearson’s experience taking a story through three books and two narrators will smooth the way for her next endeavor: another series, The Remnant Trilogy. Although she can’t share too much about the series, she did reveal that it “explores various histories and how they contradict each other. . . . There’s definitely a romance, too, and it appears to take place in medieval times.”
If the Jenna Fox Chronicles are any indication, the new trilogy is sure to benefit from Pearson’s facility for world-building and character development, not to mention a willingness to embrace her own penchant for the far-out. And yes, for the 17-year-old protagonist—this time, a princess.
After all, she says, “People sometimes think of teenagers as some other kind of being, but they’re adults, just young ones. And ages are arbitrary. . . . Age doesn’t necessarily make you the more wise or knowledgeable person.” Wisely said.