Julianna Baggott’s Pure is a truly hideous dystopia, the warped, twisted and ash-covered wreckage of civilization after a series of “Detonations” level everything outside a radiation-proof, climate-controlled Dome. The survivors outside the Dome are fused to whatever was near them or touching them at the instant of the blast. They are part-human, part-thing—a boy with bird wings fluttering out of his back, an old man with a handheld fan fused into his trachea, a man with his little brother permanently attached to his back. Inside the Dome, life is antiseptic, comfortable, surreal, robotic and ominous. Propaganda is the only language spoken; students are tracked and genetically altered; no one is allowed to step into the ashy world outside.
Pressia was six when her mother was killed in the flash of light by the impact of a glass wall. She survived with the head of the doll she was clutching fused to the place where her hand used to be. Now that she is sixteen, she will have to leave her ailing grandfather and turn herself in to kill or be killed in a deadly game. When the soldiers come for her she runs away.
Partridge is a Pure, a boy who was safely gathered into the Dome before the Detonation. His brother and his father were with him but his mother stayed behind to help the injured and died—or so he was told. One day, Partridge’s father, an important architect of the Dome and its social structure, slips and reveals that Partridge’s mother might be alive. The boy hatches a plan to escape the prison of the Dome and manages to elude capture. But his unmarked features, his vigorous health and his privileged life mark him as a Pure and put him in mortal danger in the desperate land outside the protective bubble. When he is attacked by a monstrous fusion of three people, Pressia saves him and they both go on the run.
Bradwell is a rebel with a flock of passing birds fused to his back. He knows that every explanation for what happened, both inside and outside the Dome, is a lie. But his knowledge is a death sentence if the authorities on either side discover that he is alive. His magazine clippings of life before the Detonations convince Pressia to believe him—his survival skills save her once but may not be enough to rescue her when she is captured.
Julia Baggott draws a bleak landscape convincingly. The crazed reality in Pure is carefully rendered and unrelievedly creepy. The characters are sympathetic and their questions are absorbing. You do want to find out what is behind events, what really happened to Partridge’s mother, how any kind of salvation could come from such complete and macabre damage. Pure has all the cruelty and craven authority of The Hunger Games with its own spin on a trio of young people who set out to expose the evil around them.
I found the storytelling terrific and the disfigurements repulsive. The family connoisseur of YA dystopias pronounced the fictional conceit of the book “disturbing.” That’s exactly right. But it is so fantastical that, in order to be disturbing and not merely disgusting, every detail of the story has to work. Read it if you like well done dystopian fiction—but maybe not at night. You would not want to dream about the nightmares inside the covers of this book.
Pure Julianna Baggott | Grand Central Publishing 2012