7 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Pure by Julianna Baggott

Title: Pure

Author: Julianna Baggott

Genre: Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, Speculative Fiction, Horror

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: February 2012
Hardcover: 448 pages

We know you are here, our brothers and sisters . . .

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.

Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . .

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.

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Pure Trilogy

How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher

Why did I read this book: As you may know, I’m a sucker for novels of the apocalyptic and dystopian persuasion. When I saw this book at BEA last year, I instantly scooped it up. Praised by the wide-ranging likes of Justin Cronin to Steven Schneider (the producer of the Paranormal Activity film franchise), already optioned for film, and positioned as the next great book following in the footsteps of The Hunger Games and The Passage, how could I resist?

Review:

After the Detonations scarred the world, the sky rained ash; its former blue clotted with dust and grime. Only the charred rubble of civilization remained, with homes, neighborhoods and cities laid to waste in the aftermath. People – those burned, scarred people that survived – have been exposed to strange new kind of radiation, fusing them with objects they were carrying at the time of the blasts: a doll’s head; a plastic fan. Or, in the case of the less fortunate, people fused with buildings and earth, with animals, or most horrifically, with other people – brothers together, mothers and their babies, forevermore entwined.

A week after the Detonations, those surviving wretches struggled to find water to drink, food to eat, and watched with envy the beacon of light that represented the Dome and the lucky souls inside that escaped the bombs and their aftermath. A week after the Detonations, pamphlets fell from the sky with a message from those within the protective sanctuary of the Dome:

We know you are here, our brothers and sisters.
We will, one day, emerge from the Dome to join you in peace.
For now, we watch from afar, benevolently.

Pressia Belze was only a child at the time, and though she remembers little of her life before, she remembers this message of fluttering papers from the Dome. The years pass, and Pressia is on the eve of her sixteenth birthday – a death sentence for any child, as sixteen is the age the OSR (once Operation Search and Rescue, now a militia bent on revolution and retaking the Dome) comes for children and turns them into soldiers or live bait for target practice. Pressia’s grandfather, the only person she has in the world, tries to protect her from the inevitable, but Pressia knows it is only a matter of time before she is found, or her grandfather dies and she is left utterly alone.

A lifetime away in the cool, mechanical protection of the Dome, Partridge struggles with the overbearing dominance of his father, the commander of all who live in the Dome. Torn by the memories of his mother, who disappeared during the Detonations, and the death of his older brother Sedge, who killed himself, Partridge lives each day knowing that he cannot please his father, and that he might not care to please him in the first place. When his father tells Partridge that he is resistant to the coding treatments that are necessary for a good soldier, and to remedy the deficiency he will be upping Partridge’s sessions, Partridge knows it is time for him to leave the Dome and make a stake for the outside world to try and find his mother – who might just be alive somewhere outside.

Pressia and Partridge’s fates are intertwined, and as they search for answers, their paths will cross, and life will never be the same.

Pure, the first dystopian/apocalyptic style novel from established author Julianna Baggott is a harrowing, heart-wrenching book that effectively straddles the line between YA and Adult, as well as genre and general fiction – no small feat! As with Justin Cronin’s The Passage, Pure is a novel that casts a wide net and should find a broad audience from both the speculative fiction ranks, and those who might not consider themselves genre readers.

For me, the strongest aspects of Pure lie with the visual, visceral descriptiveness of the world, the history of this future earth, and the people that inhabit the wastes. These characters are fused with objects: the earth, animals, or horrifically, with other people (because, really, if bombs went off and you were with loved ones, you’d probably try to grab them, too). The horror stories that are told with each character’s “I Remember” arc (a game that children play in which the currency is personal recollection) are harrowing realities – from Pressia, with her doll’s head fused to her hand, to the boy Bradwell with live birds living on his back watching helplessly as the family around him are fused to inanimate objects and die slow, painful deaths. While the premise of the novel is, from a scientific standpoint, sketchy, the reality of the fusions and the cause of the Detonations, rooted in human failings and motivations, are entirely believable. I like that explanation and some scientific background is given to the rationale of these Detonations, though it does require some willing suspension of disbelief. The ensuing human/animal wasteland, the separation between the Dome and outside world by way of physical designation is horrifying, but brilliant in its absolution and it’s easy to see how mankind might have willfully inflicted the apocalypse upon itself in a misguided attempt to establish a new world order.

All of this, so far, probably sounds familiar to readers of SF and apocalypse/dystopia novels – and to a certain extent, this is true. There isn’t much groundbreaking in the tropes used by Pure, but I think the idea of fusions combined with the writing style and characterization are what truly set the book apart from the fray. From a writing standpoint, Pure is sparse yet lyrical, with plenty of attention devoted to world building and setting. Told in an alternating third-person character narrative, encompassing Pressia, Partridge, a Dome girl named Lyda, and an OSR member called El Capitan, Pure plays on a number of tropes that are familiar in the SF/F dystopian/apocalyptic subgenre today. Indeed, with its teenage protagonists, it is interesting that Pure is billed as an adult novel, as it does have firm grounding and crossover appeal in the YA market. That said, there are a number of extremely dark, horrific shades to the novel – there is grimness, and all the slick visuals of a twisted John Carpenter film, which maybe preclude the book from mainstream YA territory.1

The other fascinating thing about Pure is that it’s also a very human, sympathetic novel that examines the tangle of underlying emotions and ties that emerge, even in the bleakest of circumstances. It’s a family saga, it’s a fable that plays on the Swan Wife parable, and there’s something decidedly Star Wars-ish to the level of family drama (and I mean this in the best possible way). The mystery of Partridge’s mother and the truth of her story – whether or not she’s alive, and why she would have left her children behind – and the bedtime story she told her beloved baby boy, perhaps in the hope that he might find her in the future, is beautifully wrought. There’s the blossoming love story between Pressia and Bradwell, of Partridge and Lyda, and the ties that could bind them from pursuing any future happiness, which is a sweet note in the middle of such darkness.

The best thing about the book, to me, is that while there is ample darkness and impossible odds stacked against our protagonists, just as there are deaths of many characters we have come to love and care for…all through that despair of the ravaged world, there’s a stubborn, irrefutable vein of hope. I cannot wait for the next book, and certainly Pure is on the long list for my notable reads of 2012 (so far).

Notable Quotes/Parts: From the Prologue

There was low droning overhead a week or so after the Detonations; time was hard to track. The skies were buckling with dark banks of blackened cloud, the air thick with ash and dust. If it was a plane or an airship of some sort, we never knew because the sky was so clotted. But I might have seen a metal underbelly, some dull shine of a hull dipping down for a moment, then gone.

We couldn’t yet see the Dome either. Now bright on the hill, it was only a dusky glow in the distance. It seemed to hover over the earth, orb-like, a lit bobble, unattached.

The droning was some kind of air mission, and we wondered if there would be more bombs. But what would be the point? Everything was gone, obliterated or swept up by the fires; there were dark puddles from black rain. Some drank the water and died from it. Our scars were fresh, our wounds and warpings raw. The survivors hobbled and limped, a procession of death, hoping to find a place that had been spared. We gave up. We were slack. We didn’t take cover. Maybe some were hoping it was a relief effort. Maybe I was too.

Those who could still stagger up from the rubble did. I couldn’t—my right leg gone at the knee, my hand blistered from using a pipe as a cane. You, Pressia, were only seven years old, small for your age, and still pained by your wound raw at the wrist, the burns shining on your face. But you were quick. You climbed up on top of some rubble to get closer to the sound, drawn to it because it was commanding and coming from the sky.

That was when the air took shape, a billowing of shifting, fluttering motion—a sky of singular, bodiless wings.

Slips of paper.

They touched down, settling around you like giant snowflakes, the kind kids used to cut from folded paper and tape to classroom windows, but already grayed by the ashen air and wind.

You picked one up, as did the others who could, until they were all gone. You handed the paper to me and I read it aloud.

We know you are here, our brothers and sisters.
We will, one day, emerge from the Dome to join you in peace.
For now, we watch from afar, benevolently.

Like God, I whispered, they’re watching over us like the benevolent eye of God. I wasn’t alone in this thought. Some were awed. Others raged. We were all still stunned, dazed. Would they ask some of us to enter the gates of the Dome? Would they deny us?

Years would come to pass. They would forget us.

But at first, the slips of paper became precious—a form of currency. That didn’t last. The suffering was too great.

After I read the paper, I folded it up and said, “I’ll hold on to it for you, okay?”

I don’t know if you understood me. You were still distant and mute, your face as blank and wide-eyed as the face of your doll. Instead of nodding your own head, you nodded the doll’s head, part of you forever now. When its eyes blinked, you blinked your own.

It was like this for a long time.

You can download the opening chapters HERE.

Additional Thoughts: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful book trailer made for the novel:

Also, make sure you check out our interview with author Julianna Baggott and leave a comment for the chance to win a copy of Pure!

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Reading Next: Shadowcry by Jenna Burtenshaw

Buy the Book:


Ebook available for kindle US, kindle UK, nook & apple

  1. In any case, the visual nature of the story and worldbuilding can only mean good things for the forthcoming film. I’m hoping for something Slither-esque. YES.

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9 Comments

  • Helen
    February 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    I did not care for this one which is too bad I generally love dystopians. The whole lack of scientific possibility threw me right out of the story. I did not care for the characters and I thought the description relied far too much on telling. I had been hoping for another book as good as Blood Red Road but this was not it for me, sadly.

  • Nic
    February 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    Oh, glad you liked this. I read and really enjoyed it a while back, and have been waiting for others to deliver their verdicts. (I reviewed it for SFX; long lead time for print magazine reviews!)

    I loved her use of language – “sparse yet lyrical” is a great way to describe it – and the fantastically creepy fusion stuff.

  • Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    February 6, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    I’m hoping to get to this one this week. I’ve been disappointed with a lot of recent dystopian/postapocalyptic fiction, so hopefully it lives up to expectations!

  • StoryLoverX
    February 7, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Thank you for the awesome review! I was looking forward to this book since last year, but I was worried if I should pick it book or not. The negative reviews turned me off. I have more faith in it now.

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  • Asheley (@BookwormAsheley)
    February 8, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Great write-up. I read this super early last year, and then once more last year, and then I read it yet again in the last two weeks before my review and interview went live. I just thought it was brilliantly written and such a great representation of crossover the apoc/dystopian genre. I’m sad that I’ve seen lots of YA readers not liking it, but I understand and personally attribute that to the dark content and long description in the incredible world-building…these are things that, to me, are more indicative of the crossover (reminiscent of The Passage). The characters are stunningly achieved as well, and I love the connection I made with them. I just thought it an all-around wonderful book for this genre, and it is my favorite in this genre – as evidenced by
    my re-reading it twice already. I am waiting not-so-patiently for the rest of the trilogy and cannot imagine what JBaggott has achieved with those books.

    Loved reading your thoughts!

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