After the Detonations, the world is radically different. The anxiety people suffered about rampant disease, economic and ecological hardships gives way to physical pain, terrible loss, and the ever-present threats of violence and starvation. The survivors of the Detonations are scarred, and worse, fused to whatever they were touching at the moment of the explosions. They lived for the past nine years in burned-out buildings, piles of rubble, bartering for food, and trying to avoid the military police force that patrols the streets, rounding up recruits and killing for fun. This is the world of Pressia Belze, the heroine of Julianna Baggott's post-apocalyptic coming-of-age novel, PURE. But Pressia's world is not the only one.
"PURE is an inventive and fun riff on both post-apocalyptic adventures and the coming-of-age story."
Inside the Dome, life is sterile and orderly. Partridge Willux is a Pure, someone untouched by the devastation on the outside. But life as the son of one of the apocalyptic master-minds is far from easy or happy. He hasn't seen his mother since the Detonations, and his brother recently committed suicide. Just before he is scheduled to undergo “coding,” he begins to doubt the goodness and purity of the carefully constructed life inside the Dome, and he escapes, hoping to find his mother whom he now feels has survived all these years.
Soon after escaping the Dome, Partridge meets Pressia. She is on the run, too, assisted by the mysterious and brilliant Bradwell. As the three move toward where they think Partridge’s mother might be, they are helped by a series of unlikely comrades, from a disillusioned military policeman known only as El Capitan to a group of ruthless suburban moms turned survivalists. But they are also thwarted and threatened by the power of the Dome that has taken Pressia's grandfather and Partridge's friend Lyda hostage. They must outrun the evil plans of the elder Willux, solve the puzzle of the swan wife and battle super-human killing machines to survive, all the while dealing with the startling revelations they discover, not to mention normal teenage emotions. If they fail, they will all die. If they succeed, they will start the revolution that will change the world.
PURE is an inventive and fun riff on both post-apocalyptic adventures and the coming-of-age story. Pressia's bravery and intensity are checked by her complicated feelings for Bradwell and her new partnership with Partridge. Baggott's characters are interesting and as well-developed as teenagers with unreliable or corrupted memories can be. She does a fine job of pacing the action while allowing time for the emotional aspects of the story to unfold. There are plenty of surprises, but the book never feels contrived. The world Baggott has created is fantastical: futuristic and devastated, dystopian and still hopeful. Some of her world-building seems a bit far-fetched for a book that is not quite science fiction, but overall the setting and details work well. This first installment in the series has a fairly complete narrative arc, but promises more drama to come.
PURE is a strong and energetic novel exploring identity, justice, purity and compassion.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on February 9, 2012