Julianna Baggott, Pure (Grand Central; 448 pages; $25.99).
Author Bridget Asher has written the best-selling adult novels My Husband’s Sweethearts, The Pretend Wife, and The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted. I adored The Pretend Wife, especially, but thought the others were just okay. I had no idea that Bridget Asher is a pen name. Her real name is Julianna Baggott. Baggott has also written under the nom de plume N.E. Bode. Grand Central is releasing Baggott’s newest novel for young adults on February 8. Pure is pure genius.
I must confess that I am a junkie for young adult dystopian fiction. From Lois Lowry to Rebecca Stead to Suzanne Collins to Carrie Ryan to Veronica Roth to Ally Condie to Beth Revis to Mary E. Pearson to Moira Young. You name it, I’ve read it. Pure, though, is nothing like anything I’ve read previously; Baggott stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Pressia and her mother return home from a trip to Disney World. Pressia’s grandfather meets them at the airport. On a beautiful sunny day, nuclear bombs go off all around the world. Millions die. Ash falls everywhere. Operation Search and Rescue begins. Some, though, knew this day would come and were prepared. A dome had been built, designed to withstand the bombs and their aftermath. Only the very rich were invited to live in this dome. For the lucky and the unlucky, life goes on.
Partridge is one of the lucky ones who live in the dome. His mother, though, did not make it to the dome in time. He has thought all these years that she died. However, he finds something astonishing that calls into question everything he believes. In an amazing and daring feat, Partridge escapes from the dome and sets out to find his mother. Pressia and Partridge meet and join forces to find out the real story behind the bombs and the building of the dome.
There are many patterns in dystopian fiction that Baggott breaks, and I believe she does this deliberately. Usually, authors set their stories after some kind of great tragedy or apocalyptic event–generations, even hundreds of years after. When this method of storytelling is employed, readers may find it difficult to discern what really happened or why. The government or whoever is in power tends to suppress the truth. No one alive knows the truth either. That is the biggest difference in Pure. When Pure begins, the “Detonations” occurred less than a decade ago, during the lifetimes of our characters.
Baggott tells her story from the point of view of several major characters. This is not typical of most YA dystopian novels that alternate the narrative between the heroine and the hero. Pure gives us accounts from Pressia and Partridge, the heroine and hero of the novel, but the author also lets us into the minds of others. At first, this surprised me, and then I applauded this tactic for adding to the story.
Baggott’s characters all carry inner and outer scars. When you picture the heroine of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss Everdeen, you see her as a beautiful teenage girl. In March, we will all be picturing Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in the movie. The heroes and heroines of young adult fiction are always good-looking, and this trend is no different in dystopian fiction. The world as the characters know it may be very different from our world but the idea of beauty still stands. That is not the case in Pure.
You must have a strong stomach to read Pure, it’s true. At the time of the Detonations, if a person was close to another individual, an animal, or an object, the two melded together, sometimes in grotesque ways. For example, Pressia was holding a doll. Her hand is no longer a hand; a doll’s head is now where her hand should be. Bradwell, a secondary character, was near several birds when the bombs went off. The birds are now a part of his back and sometimes Pressia can see the wings of the birds flutter. El Capitan was on his dirtbike with his little brother, and…well, you just have to read it. The point is that these characters are not beautiful. Yet they are not ugly. Baggott writes them with a kind of dignity, for everyone is marked in some way. Only those in the dome are unblemished and “pure.”
Pure is first in a trilogy, and I cannot wait to read more. I love that Baggott puts her own mark on young adult dystopian fiction. She is truly like no one else.