Review: Pure by Julianna Baggott

Sunday, January 1, 2012
Title: Pure
Genre: post-apocalyptic, dystopia, young-adult
Series: Pure #1
Pages: 369 (Nook NetGalley ARC edition)
Published: expected February 2012
Rating: 4/5
Source: provided by publisher via NetGalley

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.

Pressia Belze lives in a harsh and hard world, a world wracked by wars and detonations, separations and hatred. Outside of the Dome that protected the city and people inside from the world-ending Detonations of nine years before, everything is warped, twisted, fused, changed. Pure is definitely a striking and original dystopic debut: twists, turns and betrayals come and go and always turn out different than expected, harder parts of life are not glossed over, and the omnipresent feeling of danger and being watched all lend themselves to an engrossing, enveloping and often disturbing read. Pressia and the story of her struggles are one of the better examples of these two genres (dystopia and post-apocalyptic) I've read and is a promising beginning to a series. Through its occasional  and minimal stumbles, Pure's plot is addictive and striking: this is not a novel that you will want to put down and continue later.

One of the things I liked best about this novel and author was that Pure is a very developed and thought-out novel. This is a world that is utterly destroyed and ripped apart in a frighteningly possible way, very alien to our current situation and yet it doesn't take too much of a stretch of imagination to believe in Baggott's harsh and unyielding future. The dystopic elements of the darker novel aren't just for show or used as an accent like curtains on a window. No, the controlling forces and people within Dome/the militaristic OSR outside are the main driving forces for the plot and the events throughout Pure, and are happily used well within the frame of the story. This is one of those young-adult novels that features a romance by-plot: it doesn't stop the show to focus on the touchy-feely emotions of the teen leads. I just wish it had been a first person novel: the events of the past, the action, the characters all feel slightly removed thanks to the third person perspective used. With so many shifting, main perspectives floating directing around the story (at least five that I can remember), and with several of those feeling rather unnecessary in the first place, it's hard to feel a concrete connection to all the goings-on at times.

Pressia herself is likeable, if distant for the reasons mentioned above. She's strident and tough: a survivor in a harsh reality where millions simply vanished, or were horribly affected by the Detonations. I also really like that Pressia isn't perfect: not in looks, not in attitude, not in her actions. She fumbles, she falls, she makes basic mistakes, but Pressia does not give up or give in: this is a protagonist to respect. What made me happiest is that she is never a stagnant character: she grows, matures, learns and adapts to new information and situations. At sixteen, Pressia is on the run from the violent and bloody leaders of the people outside, Operation Sacred Revolution, her own government. Being in her narrative is a constant whirl of emotion and thought: Pressia is not one to sit idly by - ever. Take her conflicted relationship with  the "Pure" Partridge: it's a constant flux of guilt, curiosity, anger, shame, jealousy, and opportunism. It's real and believable. Forced by her own "government" to kill or be killed, Pressia is a girl with limited to no options given to her, so she does what few do and creates her own path. What resonated with me most about Pressia and her life was the unique but clever treatment of memories from Before as currency: I thought that spoke rather elegantly and ingeniously of each characters individual wish and desire for better times, a reminder of hope and love in this dark painful life to get them through the Dusts/Beasts and other terrors. 

Like Pressia, Partridge is a likeable character constrained by his surroundings. Like the Dome itself, duty and expectation weigh upon and have his whole life; this is a kid that is easy to commiserate with. His typical teenage family problems and concerns are much more relatable than Pressia's fused dollhead, mysterious past or bounty on her head. Partridge is one those rare male protagonist that isn't utterly foreign or alien; Baggott does an admirable job of distinguishing his personality without veering into female-like tendencies/thoughts. Unlike Pressia, Partridge has far more leeway in the direction his life will take; though not without its own macabre risks (tickers!) his life is a stark conparison to the beaten-down, ignored and hated masses outside the Dome. I can't say which character I enjoyed more: there was a nice dichotomy present with the both of them that showed the most rounded view of the novel. These are two characters whose combined story arc absolutely ASTONISHED me. I thought I had called where this novel was going, dreaded love-triangle and all, but I was dead wrong.  I did find the pairing off of the teenage couples to be a bit much; strains my credulity meter that it's that easy for two couples to fall in love, but to be quite fair, romance is far from the main focus of this novel. Ms. Baggott can most definitely write a twist and stand all expectations of her work on their head.

Pure can surprise you with its characters, its surprising revelations, or even its bleak and dark tone. No character is safe in Pure, and several losses hit me hard. Occasionally gory, Pure is a lot of novel. And with so much going on, oftentimes parts of the book are less developed and well-done. I felt that the information on the sciences and "coding" left a lot to be desired. How do they upgrade people? Using what technology? I thought that at least two of the POVs used were unneeded and superfluous to the basic story of Pressia and Partridge: Lyda and El Capitan specifically. Both seemed rather sadly and hastily sketched out compared to the real, three-dimensional personalities of Pressia and her Pure. I found myself wondering why they were essential as Pressia, Partridge and Ingersoll clearly dominated the narrative: they two would've done much better as tertiary characters without POV chapters.  I wanted more detail and time spent on the religion aspect of the novel: the idea of some "wretches" worshiping the Dome as a type of Heaven is a very interesting and compelling idea - I'd love to read more about that and its impact of the lives of the people in/outside the Dome. I also think that more time in the narrative used to see the differences and the turmoil between the two social strata would've provided a more complete and real background: outside the obvious, superficial differences between the pures and the wretches not much is explained. There's a lot of basic groundwork laid here in Pure for the two future sequels to build from and fill in, and I can't complain that it's full of obvious or calculated plotting: Pure is a smooth read from start to finish with details from Before enmeshed skilfully within the kid's POVs.

This is a dark, engrossing, dystopic and post-apocalyptic young-adult read. It's hard to put down with great characters, unforeseen twists and good-to-solid writing. Pressia is one of the better female protagonists I've come across with a unique and compelling storyline, along with a functioning brain and an adaptive attitude, and I was very impressed by my reading experience. I will be buying my own copy when this goes on sale and will also be keeping an eagle eye out for the sequel, Fuse.


  1. This sounds like a great first read for the year!

  2. It would be. It's definitely one of the better dystopias AND post=apocalyptic novels I've read.


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