Pure by Julianna Baggott

Pure
Julianna Baggott
Grand Central Publishing
ISBN-10: 1455503061

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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.

Thoughtfully weird and wild with tension, and tender and threatening at once, Pure is a novel that will provoke conflicting desires in readers—I wanted to read it slowly and whisper it line-by-line out loud and let every sentence melt on my tongue, but at the same time, I wanted to tear through the pages to see where the heartbreakingly realistic characters were going to go next.

Pure delivers with both masterful prose and a powerful and hard-driven plot. I love to find a book that is an apt and energetic metaphor for our times, all while serving the primary purpose of good fiction, too: spinning a tale the never grows boring, with characters that look back at us while we read and make us believe in them.

Julianna Baggott gives us Pressia, a young woman who has a doll-head fused to one hand, a grotesque reminder of an event of some sort called the Detonations that changed the world in an apocalyptic way. She’s tough and inventive, and she represents hope in a desperate world, and while she reminds me of another great post-apocalyptic character, the title character (Swan) in Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, she’s unique in the way Baggott shapes her and becomes a true original not far into the novel because of her grace and beautifully contradictory spunk. Her story is balanced with and comes to meet that of a young man named Partridge, who is also part of this dystopian setting, though he begins the novel inside a secured dome that is designed to protect humanity from the people like Pressia who live outside it and may be a threat to the entire human race (according to those in power inside the dome). Those outside the dome are called the Wretches, while those secured inside are the Pures.

Pressia and Partridge carry us through this compelling story, and we are introduced to and worried by encounters they have with wonderful creations from Baggott’s imagination: Death Spree teams and Dusts (in places such as the Meltlands and the Rubble Fields). To say more is to reveal too much, but readers will not be disappointed with the inventions Baggott’s imagination presents us with. Nor will they be able to stop caring about Pressia and Partridge in their inevitable journeys toward each other and beyond. It’s a coming-of-age adventure to rival them all.

Advertised as a Young Adult and a dystopian novel, Pure is that and so much more. I’ve shelved it alongside such classics as Stephen King’s The Stand, McCammon’s Swan Song, and David Brin’s The Postman, and with contemporary books like Justin Cronin’s The Passage and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It’s nice to have a woman there—you know humanity couldn’t survive without them in the first place.

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