Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book review: Pure by Julianna Baggott

I believe I mentioned this before, probably recently, but I am pretty sure I have maxed-out, for awhile, my patience with post-apocalyptic/dystopian YA fiction. Pure might be an above-average entry to the genre (I say might because, genuinely, I can't tell anymore), but my overall interest while reading it was tepid at best. The scenario is this, according to Goodreads:

"Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run.

There are those who escaped the apocalypse unmarked. Pures. They are tucked safely inside the Dome that protects their healthy, superior bodies. Yet Partridge, whose father is one of the most influential men in the Dome, feels isolated and lonely. Different. He thinks about loss-maybe just because his family is broken; his father is emotionally distant; his brother killed himself; and his mother never made it inside their shelter. Or maybe it's his claustrophobia: his feeling that this Dome has become a swaddling of intensely rigid order. So when a slipped phrase suggests his mother might still be alive, Partridge risks his life to leave the Dome to find her.

When Pressia meets Partridge, their worlds shatter all over again."

As someone who generally loves fantasy and science fiction and such reality-bending genres, I carry into every reading experience a healthy willingness -- desire, even -- to suspend disbelief. So when an author asks me to, initially, just accept that this world they have built exists, for whatever reason, I'll get on board. I expect, throughout the progression of the novel (or trilogy, because OF COURSE it's a trilogy,) for that reasoning to get fleshed out, and for a little backstory to be given. Pure does this successfully, I believe, since it employs the audience-learns-along-with-the-characters method of reconstructing the events that led up to the present day. 

All of that said, there are elements here that were too implausible even for me to accept. For instance, on multiple occasions, the protagonists battle literal monsters: Beasts are creatures created by the fusion of human beings with animals at the time of the Detonations, and Dusts are former humans fused with the earth itself. Both are alive, technically, but neither have retained the higher-order logical processing of human beings and are driven always to kill to feed. Pressia, herself, has one fist that is completely fused to a doll's head, and it's not "fused" in the way where the really high temperature from an explosion might have caused the plastic to burn and meld onto her skin; it's literally a part of her in that she can feel pain if she incurs an injury to the doll's head. 

Recounting those complaints, it seems like further evidence that I'm just fatigued by this genre rather than finding legitimate grievances. I mean, I'm not okay with fused bodies, but I am okay with the "genetically engineered" creatures in The Hunger Games or a society dividing itself into factions as in Divergent? (And, well, even then, by the time I got to the rationale for why that happened, I totally rolled my eyes at it.) 

Maybe it's that I wasn't that interested in the characters themselves? Pressia is something of an idealist and optimist, even in the face of destruction all around her. She seems to have a positive impact on the people around her, but I personally found her a little simplistic and I had a hard time understanding, frankly, how she survived as long as she did after the Detonations. Her co-conspirators, Bradwell and El Capitan -- neither of whom are mentioned in the Goodreads blurb above, but are no less important than either Pressia or Partridge -- each have distinct traits that have ensured their survival thus far. Pressia, herself, is determined and means well, but she seems to be always on the verge of being killed or captured (and is in fact captured outright several times) but escapes danger by luck or thanks to the skill of her friends. It's fine, but I wish she brought something to the table other than a chipper attitude.

I don't know. I thought a lot about how to be fair to this book before writing this review, because I suspect it's really not as troubled as I'm making it out to be, but the bottom line is that I had a hard time fully enjoying it. I'm going to complete the trilogy because that's just the kind of thing that I do, but I don't unreservedly recommend it.


  1. Sounds like no love triangle so that's a positive? I'm with you, though, I can take genetic engineering as in The Hunger Games but the doll's head thing would kind of weird me out. One at least attempts to use science - the other thing sounds like it's fantasy in sci-fi ... the genres don't have to be kept separately, but if everything else in your world is more fact based, then magic shouldn't show up.

    1. There is a love triangle hinted at that never comes to fruition -- both Bradwell and El Capitan are in love with Pressia, but she loves only one of them and the two boys still have a healthy relationship.

      And you hit the nail on the head -- it's perfectly fine to mesh fantasy and sci-fi, but the two need to be pragmatically balanced. Baggott does attempt to explain how the fusions work; it's something to do with nanoparticles being packaged in with the Detonation mechanism that speeds growth and recovery, and so the nanoparticles assisted human recovery with whatever was there. But that struck me as more "science magic" than actual science, so it made it hard to accept.