Monday, January 28, 2013

Pure by Julianna Baggott

Have you ever enjoyed a book so much that you find yourself  trying to read more and more slowly, rationing out chapters so that perhaps the book might not end so quickly? That is what I found myself doing half-way through Pure by Julianna Baggott. Usually, I plow through books at a breakneck pace, skimming though sentences to find out what happens next, and that's especially true if it's one that one as filled with peril and mystery as Pure is.

Pure opens roughly nine years after the apocalyptic Detonations; a cataclysmic world-wide disaster that destroyed much of civilization. The cause of the Detonations is unclear (and is one of the story's many mysteries) but the effects were devastating. Those who survived did so at a great cost; they are fused with whatever (or whoever) they were holding or standing close to at the time. For our main character 16-year-old Pressia, it means having her left hand and arm fused with the plastic doll she was holding. Other characters in the story bear similar scars - a boy with a flock of live birds fused to his back, another with his younger brother permanently attached to his shoulders. Nightmarish creatures called Dusts (people fused with the earth or buildings) and Beasts (people fused with wild animals) haunt the landscape, devouring any living thing that comes within reach.

Equally deadly is the OSR - once called Operation Search and Rescues, now known as Operation Sacred Revolution - the paramilitary group that runs the poverty-riddled settlement where Pressia lives with her grandfather. At age 16, all children must register with the OSR or face execution. If selected, recruits are "un-taught" how to read and taught how to kill. Those who are too weak or deformed to join are used as live targets for the new recruits.

But this bleak and deadly landscape isn't the only world here. There are those who escaped the Detonations by taking shelter in the Dome, which sits on a great hill overlooking the rubble fields. A few weeks after the Detonations, thousands of notes were dropped on the rubble fields with this message:
This message was the first and only communication from the Dome. Years later, some people worship the Dome, others, like the OSR, plot to destroy it. But many think little about it, more concerned with day-to-day survival.

Life inside the Dome, however, is far from perfect. The cost of surviving the Detonations is to live in a tightly-controlled society under constant surveillance. Sixteen-year-old Partridge, son of the Dome's most powerful man, lives an isolated life, haunted by the death of his mother, who chose to leave the Dome during the Detonations, and his older brother's recent suicide. After uncovering evidence that his mother may still be alive, Partridge escapes the Dome to the rubble fields.

Pressia, meanwhile, is on the run from the OSR when she finds Partridge and saves him from a Groupie attack (Groupies are quite literally groups of people fused together). Thinking she can somehow use Partridge to get off the OSR's list, she agrees to help him find his childhood home, where he believes he will find clues that will lead him to his mother.

Pressia and Partridge's search does not end there, of course. What they uncover leads them to question their own lives, the world they have grown up in and who they really are. Though the book is long at 400+ pages, it is a fast-paced read, filled with action, surprising revelations, heartbreak and of course, more questions than answers. But as quickly as the action unfolds, you'll want to slow down and take in every word.

Baggott's world-building is excellent, adding that much more urgency to Pressia and Partridge's journey. While there is a hint of romance between some characters, it is not the central theme. Pressia is a very strong female lead - while not always sure of the decisions she makes, she never yields control or loses her agency. This is a refreshing change after having read so many YA Hunger Games wannabes. To be sure, Pure is no less dark than Hunger Games, in fact, it is more so. The world of Pure is more complex, with lies and deceptions layered one after another and filled with so much tragedy that it is part of everyday life. That people like Pressia are able to not just survive, but to do so with their spirit intact is no less a victory than finding the answers to the questions surrounding her.

It wasn't until the very last page of the book that I realized it was part of a planned trilogy. The next book, Fuse, is due out in February and you can already place a hold on it (after mine, of course!)

~ Allison, Adult Services

Update 1/30/13 - Pure was awarded the 2013 ALA/YALSA Alex Award, which is given every year to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults! See the whole list at:

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