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Pure by Julianna Baggott. Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group. 2012. Holiday reads. (Here at Tea Cozy, holiday reads aren’t books about holidays; they’re grown up books for grown up readers to indulge in over the holidays.) Edited to add: Alex Award winner.
The Plot: Pressa, almost sixteen, was only seven when the Detonations happened. Her face has the burns and scars that mark her as a survivor; fused onto her hand is a doll’s head. She and her grandfather have somehow survived the years after, the violence, the hunger, the other desperate survivors. As her sixteenth birthday approaches, the danger grows: it’s the age that the OSR comes to take you. The lucky ones are trained as soldiers; the unlucky ones are the live targets for training.
Partridge, eighteen, is a Pure, raised in the protection of the Dome. He is the son of a leader, but that doesn’t protect him from the “coding” done to make people smarter, faster, stronger, more obedient. It doesn’t protect him from his father’s disappointment that the behaviour coding doesn’t take. His father blames his mother: “your mother has always been problematic.” With that statement, Partridge realizes his mother didn’t die during the Detonations.
Pressa, on the run from the soldiers. Partridge, lost in the nightmare that is Pressa’s world.
Their paths cross, and each are pulled into the journey of the other. Nothing and no one is safe.
The Good: Pressa’s and Partridge’s world is one destroyed and shattered; even the Pures untouched and isolated and protected within the Dome do not live in a familiar society. Pressa’s story of survival is told while Partridge dreams of a way to escape the Dome and his father and find his mother. Not only does the reader learn more about their worlds, just as important, the reader learns what they do and don’t know about those worlds. Pressa doesn’t know much beyond her tiny neighborhood, but she is knowledgeable about the dangers of that world. Partridge has no idea the reality of life outside the Dome, and what he’s been taught isn’t always accurate.
At first, I thought that their world was our world, but as Pure unfolds, as more is learned of the Before leading up to the Detonations and about what happened after, I realized that even more this was an alternate universe. Names and politics are different, but places and songs are the same. Never has a Bruce Springsteen song been so heartbreaking. At times, reading Pure was unsettling because I had to keep up with those changes, of what was different, but in a way, it’s the same sense of unfamiliarity that Partridge feels when he leaves the safety of the Dome.
Partridge and Pressa are the two main people telling the story, but not the only ones. There is El Capitan, about Partridge’s age, a member of the dreaded OSR militia. He joined as a child, after the Detonations, because it was safety and he had himself and his brother Helmud to take care of. Helmud, who is fused to El Capitan’s body. Lyda is girl from the Dome who pays a high price for dancing with Partridge.
The twists and turns of Pure surprised and delighted me. Even better, Partridge and Pressa are smart enough to figure out what is going on. Sometimes they are a step ahead, sometimes a step behind, and the stakes keep getting higher and higher. It’s no longer simply avoiding the OSR or finding a lost parent. Partridge, Pressa and the others realize that there is more going on in and outside the Dome than they ever dared dream.
Pressa’s world broke my heart. So much damage, so much loss. Pressa doesn’t want pity or sympathy; she is a survivor, she is smart, she is capable. But still, the loss. The loss not just of the Before, because as becomes clear the Before was not entirely safe or peaceful. Still, it was a world where a little boy could dream one day of flying, and now years later he knows that dream is dead and lost: “He used to know all there was to know about flying planes, and he knows he’ll never get to. But maybe this will fell like it, just a little.”
The survivors are not just physically changed; they are also forced to make hard choices to live. “In a different world, could he be a better person? Maybe they all could be. Maybe, in the end, that’s the greatest gift the Dome can offer: When you live in a place with enough safety and comfort, you can pretend you’d always make the best decision, even in the face of desperation.” I was reminded of a line from Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly that haunts me: “Once you were brave. Once you were kind. You can be so again.” Pure is about a handful of teens fighting for a world where they can afford be brave and kind.
The fusings — the ways the bodies of the survivors are impacted. Since reading this book, I think, if the Detonations happened now, what would I be fused to? A keyboard, a window pane, a cat?
Because I cannot stop thinking of that girl with a doll for a hand. Because the world building of Pure, Before, during, and after, is so wonderfully complex. Because Pure answered all the questions it needed to, and gave resolutions to Pressa’s and Partridge’s journeys, and then raised more questions and created a new quest. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.
About Elizabeth Burns
Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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