Pure by Julianna Baggott
I have been eagerly anticipating Pure. I’ve been reading Julianna Baggott’s blog since I met her at UC. It’s gotten a lot of well-deserved buzz comparing it to teen sensation books like The Hunger Games. By the end of the book, I felt it deserved the hype.
The world of Pure has endured a nuclear apocalypse, which ravaged the bodies of survivors, fusing them with each other and their surroundings. A privileged few lived through the attacks unscathed because they were safe inside a protective Dome. The two main characters are Pressia, who grew up outside the dome with a hand fused with a doll’s head, and Partridge, who grew up safe and secure inside the Dome. Third person limited narration alternates between Pressia, Partridge, El Capitan, a soldier who helps the group, and Lyda, Partridge’s love interest. Partridge leaves the Dome looking for his mother, who he suspects is still alive in the wasteland, meets Pressia, and is swept along with her on a devastating chain of events.
The beginning of the novel was a little hard to get into, as many books with a strange setting and complex background are. The language seemed spare and didn’t seem to penetrate very deeply into the characters’ interior lives at first. Of course, this stage-setting was necessary, and made possible everything else that followed.
By the time I was 100 pages in, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are a parade of weird and bizarre, the kind you just want to sit back and watch because there’s no telling what’s coming next. It just made me marvel at how messed up Baggott’s imagination is. Parts of the book really feel like a freak show. The most surreal to me were the mothers, fused to their children’s bodies, who talked about their leader, who they called “Our Good Mother,” in a quasi-religious way. Also, can I just say that now I’m really terrified about nuclear winter? It would kind of suck.
The last 200 pages are nonstop action, interspersed with heartbreaking revelations and moving death scenes. Seriously, this book has a body count worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy. The twists and discoveries were well-planned, with the right number of previous clues, plausible coincidences, conspiracy, and wonder. The way Partridge, Pressia and their group of rejects and misfits strategized, worked together, trusted each other instinctively, and undermined a much more powerful system was intellectually and emotionally satisfying.
The ending sets up the rest of the trilogy nicely: the main characters know who they are and have a sense of purpose now. The backstory of the lead-up to the Detonations is deep and has potential for many more startling disclosures. The opening moves have been made in a chess game that will continue for two more novels. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series and to the movie that has already been contracted!