Crowinator's Reviews > Pure

Pure by Julianna Baggott
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First Line: “There was a low droning overhead a week after the Detonations; time was hard to track.”

Cover Story: Paperweight.

I’d put this paperweight on my desk. It would look snazzy. As a book cover, though, I don’t know; the butterfly and dome both figure into the story, but the image isn’t as evocative as it should be for a purely symbolic cover. I don’t think it accurately conveys the tone of the book. (Maybe that is the point but I often pick up a book based on the cover, and I think this one is misleadingly boring.) I do like how the butterfly on the back is Pressia’s mechanical one and how it’s outside the dome, though; that halfway redeems it for me.

Five-Sentence Summary: Pressia was just a little girl holding a doll when the Detonations hit, but when the bombs ended, she was as irrevocably altered as the world itself, her hand fused with the doll’s head. Those who survived found themselves mutilated with burns, deformed by their ruined environment, and fused to whatever creatures or objects were most near – some people fused with animals into Beasts, others with people and become Groupies, some even with the earth and became Dusts. The only people that survived intact were in the Dome, a protected enclave of people now known as Pures. Patridge is one such Pure, living a safe but controlled life of genetic enhancements and behavioral control, but his discovery that his mother may still be alive and outside prompts him to escape the Dome in search of her. When Pressia and Partridge meet, they begin to uncover the dark truth about the creation of the Dome, the destruction of the world, and their inevitable connection to each other.

Character Arcade
Pressia: Pressia is a survivor; she’s canny and fierce, and she understands the idea of sacrifice. But she’s also compassionate, which isn’t as incongruous as it sounds. Even though she’s impatient with other people’s weaknesses (like Patridge’s complete lack of survival skills), she’s unable to leave them to die when she could help. She’s one of those who act on her impulses, rather than turn away from them when they’re inconvenient. She’s nostalgic for her grandfather’s world before the Detonations, which she barely remembers, and this wistfulness makes her relatable to those of us living in the world she misses. Her shame and self-consciousness over her doll’s head-hand is also an interesting contrast with Bradwell, who wears his deformity as a mark of survivor pride; part of Pressia’s struggle in this book is to accept the world for what it is now and what it could become, rather than what it once was, and it’s clearly illustrated by how she feels about her hand.

Bradwell: Bradwell is an intellectual know-it-all, a semi-paranoid conspiracy theorist who just happens to be right all the time. That can make him insufferable, because he seems to have so little humility, but his interactions with Pressia and Partridge soften him up over the course of the book, and he grew on me. He is definitely the Exposition Fairy of this book, though, and his extreme knowledge can be a little unbelievable. During the Detonations, he was fused with birds on his back, which are still alive and flutter their wings when he’s agitated; while this is a super cool idea, I actually wished for a clearer description on what this looks like (are the birds facing out or in? flying into his back or away? How many are there? Etc.).

Partridge: Partridge is a Pure, the son of one of the Dome’s most powerful founders. I liked his courage and determination, and though it’s a rough transition for him, he proves his adaptability by making it in a world far, far different from the one he’s used to. His constant comparisons between living inside and outside the Dome are illuminating; there’s a freedom to being outside the Dome that he finds exhilarating after his rigid upbringing, a sense of realness in seeing the birds and feeling the wind despite the devastated landscape. (view spoiler) Ultimately, I don’t feel he’s as strong a presence as Pressia or Bradwell or El Capitan, because he is always reacting to something cluelessly, but maybe as he grows into his role outside the Dome he won’t feel as bland.

El Capitan/Helmud:
Groupies – people fused together, sharing their “body” in a variety of ways – are definitely gross, but El Capitan and his brother Helmud give it emotional complexity, too. El Capitan, a leader in the OSR forced to carry his brother on his back, is full of rage and violence but also doubt and a surprising reluctance to be cruel that he frequently suppresses. Helmud at first seems like he barely has a mind, given that he repeats El Capitan’s words and seems to have none of his own, but his interactions with his brother are subtly layered. (view spoiler) El Capitan is an excellent antihero in that he’s disturbing but also sympathetic.

Lyda: Lyda gets her own narrative, but she’s sort of a limp noodle. A cipher. She is the girl Partridge uses to escape, and her purpose is to set up the story of what’s happening inside the Dome when Partridge is gone and to give us an “in” into the burgeoning resistance, and that’s kind of it. As such, what happens during her scenes is important, particularly at the end, but she herself doesn’t feel like a full character yet. She has potential to develop a lot in the second book.

Style & Substance
“We were all left to die. We were the ones who tended the dying. We wrapped the dead. We buried our children and when there were too many to bury, we built pyres and burned the bodies of our own children. Deaths, they did this to all of us. We used to call them Father or Husband or Mister. We’re the ones who saw their darkest sins. While we banged the shutters of our homes like trapped birds and beat our heads on prison walls, we watched them. We alone know how much they hated themselves, how shamed they were . . . and how they turned that on us at first – and their own children – and then the world at once.” – Our Good Mother speaking of the wives and mothers in her care to Pressia

On the one hand, the premise of this novel isn’t all that different. Post-apocalyptic dystopias in which a small group of teenage underdogs discover a vast, insidious conspiracy are all over the place, as are concepts like the Dome, total environmental collapse, genetic modifications, mutated survivors, and the evils of conservative religious propaganda. If you’ve read a lot of dystopias (teen or adult), then there are plenty of times when you will know what to expect, even when you are meant to be surprised by a plot twist ((view spoiler)).

On the other hand, Baggott puts these familiar elements together in a way that feels new enough to stand out from the pack, because of the totality of her world-building and into creating characters and storylines that fit organically with its history. The horror and science fiction elements aren’t mere decorative trappings for a bland “dystopias are popular now” retread or teen romance or what have you; they are integral and imaginative and (mostly) make sense. She’s paid attention to geography, history, (pseudo)science, politics, religion, and people themselves, and even though there are still some details I feel are lacking (such as how the Return to Civility movement against women happened in the first place), I think there’s enough in this book to warrant high expectations for the next one. It’s a high-concept book, because you can hand it to someone and highlight the novelty of the gross factor, but that’s not all it is. (Though I will admit that when I booktalked this, I was all like, “Pressia! Has a doll’s head for a hand! Her grandfather has a fan lodged in his throat that whirs when he breathes! There are people melted into the earth who will suck you down and devour you! READ IT!”)

Having said that, the world outside the Dome feels more compelling. It’s more visceral, more detailed, and more frightening, while the world inside the Dome is just what you’d expect. Sanitized education, population control, genetic enhancements, behavioral control, rigid systems, food pills, etc. Blah blah blah fishcakes. Part of it is we spend a lot more time outside the Dome, so of course it is more vivid, but it also has the greatest amount of elements that surprised me or defied my expectations. If there’s more stuff in the Dome during the next book, I hope we get a greater sense of it than sterile corridors, classrooms, and recycled air (though the scene that takes place in the Personal Loss Archives is an exception).

The writing, which bounces among several third person, present-tense narratives, is mostly plainspoken, competent but not distinctive. It serves to tell the story but it doesn’t elevate it. There are some really great passages, one of which I just highlighted, but for me the strength of this book came from the ideas and character development, rather than the style or structure of the writing itself. The sheer amount of backstory bluntly worked in to the beginning might put off some readers expecting a faster-paced story, but I can be patient when the world is so interesting, so I didn’t have much of a problem. Sometimes the dryness of the expository writing did undercut the horror for me -- so many people have written about how gross and scary this novel is, but I didn’t always feel it.

Vicarious Smoochies
Not a lot of romance in this dark, demented universe, though the groundwork has been laid for Baggott to take it in that direction in Book Two.

Bradwell’s and Pressia’s wary regard for each other, and their slow transformation into trust and possible intimacy is all you get in this novel. It’s understated compared with most YA fiction, which I found refreshing. (view spoiler)

Mood Ring: Nuclear Winter

Dark, sooty, barren, cold. This is not a book that will give you warm, fuzzy feelings.

Random Asides
“What’s Grosser than Gross?”
Here’s a joke I remember from my childhood: “What's grosser than gross? A dead baby in a trash can. What's grosser than that? A dead baby in 10 trash cans!” (This was a running joke format in the 80s and we didn’t even live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.) I love the grosser elements of this book, the inventiveness of how the cocktail of bombs affected human DNA, but I felt sometimes like Baggott was playing this game while writing. “What’s grosser than gross? A baby fused to its mother. What’s grosser than gross? Ten babies fused to their mother!” At a certain point, the mutations lean too far into B-movie territory, becoming too over-the-top even for this premise and therefore harder to accept. It’s a minor criticism, however – I still think it’s overall awesome.

Garbage Pail Kids
Another 80s flashback for you. The human/creature/object hybrids in this novel would make for some imminently trade-able cards.


Other Dome-tastic novels, obviously. One that I think that fell through the cracks of YA/middle-grade fiction is A Crack in the Sky, by Mark Peter Hughes; it’s much younger than Pure but the Dome politics and weird religious fervor (inner and outer) are similar. Also, other graphically violent YA dystopias, like Enclave by Ann Aguirre and Divergent, by Veronica Roth, though both of those also have a heavier romance element. And this may be a stretch, but I think Tim Lebbon’s horror fantasy novels (particularly about his magical, mechanized world Noreela) would be an interesting pairing; his writing is more lush, but the themes are as are dark and heavy as anything in Pure, and there are a fair number of freaky creatures. I always recommend his novel The Island as a good standalone.

Other Recommendations
Buy a PS3 and play some Fallout 3 after reading this. You’ll thank me. Or you can watch The Matrix and Wall-E.

Old Comments: When the Detonations hit . . . I will probably be fused with my Macbook on my lap. So the Goodreads updates will continue, even after the apocalypse!

In the beginning, this was a three-star read for me, but somewhere around page 200 I got highly invested in the characters and finding out what happens to them, and after a few genuine surprise moments in the story (and despite some obvious tells that I think were supposed to be surprises), I ended up hooked.

Longer review to come. I know you all are laughing at me because I always say that, but I do intend to write them. One day.

After the apocalypse. (c;
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Reading Progress

03/15/2012 page 261

Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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Trudi Reading this right now too, though you're about 100 pages ahead :)

Crowinator I'm enjoying it more now than I was in the immediate beginning. What do you think of it?

Trudi I'm on page 200 and I'm *enjoying* it, I just haven't decided how much yet... it's definitely exciting and I think I'm getting a crush on Bradwell :)

Catie Can you imagine all of us goodreaders? We'd probably look like a walking library. I'd have my netbook fused to my lap, plus a paperback in one hand and my kindle in the other. Not a bad way to be, actually...

Trudi Just finished this today, with pretty much the same response. By the end I was totally hooked and mightily impressed with the level of detail that went into the world-building and the characters. ♥Bradwell♥ :)

Trudi Such an epic review Crowinator! You really do this book justice, it's warts and all :)

Catie "At a certain point, the mutations lean too far into B-movie territory, becoming too over-the-top even for this premise and therefore harder to accept."

<---I had this exact same thought! I think that it would have been a lot more heavy if it hadn't been so exaggerated in parts. Did you ever read this - The Sky Inside?

Crowinator Thanks Trudi! So did you in your review.

Catie, I haven't read it yet. I love some of her other books (esp. The Hollow Kingdom) but never got around to that one.

Gary Great review. Made me laugh. Agree with the comment that at about pg 200 it starts to take hold. Perhaps she left it a bit late? I normally like my literature to take off at about pg 1-5,

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