Pure by Julianna Baggott

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Pure is a strange little addition to the Dystopian Genre. Oddly reminiscent of Warm Bodies (although not as romance-centric) it looks at societal differences, genocide and survival, while also conjuring up a pretty bizarre set of post-apocalyptic denizens to add to the mix.

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Pure is set in a world ravaged by nuclear bombs. The world has turned to a mix of rubble and dust, populated primarily by the survivors of the ‘detonations’ who suffer as a result of their exposure to the bombs. All survivors are littered with objects that impacted them during the detonations – shards of glass, broken bits of metal, household objects – and these objects have fused with the survivors, mutating them and often leaving them crippled. Our main characters include a girl with a dolls head for a hand, her grandfather who has a fan embedded in his throat, a boy who has several birds fused to his back and a man who became fused to his younger brother. Due to some odd side effects of the radiation, people and objects successfully genetically fused, meaning that (for instance) the grandfather’s fan is now essential to his breathing and the birds on the boys back coexist with his body – sharing blood, nerves and life-force. Pretty odd really!

Some survivors have been maimed even further by the radiation – having been fused into seething masses of mutated humans (creating groupies) or becoming fused completely to animals or plants creating weird, inhuman hybrids. Some humans have even become fused to the earth itself creating a dangerous form of monster called ‘dusts’ who camouflage themselves in the environment and prey on unsuspecting humans. Most of these creatures have lost all humanity – turning into predators who are only interested in keeping themselves alive.

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Although I am not convinced by the scientific plausibility of these fusions (I am pretty sure that birds could not suddenly become compatible with humans and merge into one being) it does lead to a very interesting and bizarre world, where creatures that would otherwise be impossible become possible, and our idea of beauty and perfection is questioned.  The heroines of these sort of books are usually pretty girls (even if they do not believe it themselves) who prove that although beauty is not skin deep still have it and are still found attractive by all the boys around them. Conversely our heroin in Pure is a scarred, mutated girl and her love interest is a scarred, mutated boy. Similarly to The Dark and Hollow Places where the heroine is deeply scarred, Pure shows young adults that you can still be found attractive even if you are not conventionally beautiful, or physically appealing.

In contrast to the destruction-born wasteland, we are also faced with The Dome – a complex created before the detonations and which houses ‘Pure’, mutation-free humans in a tightly governed, right-wing society bent on perfecting the human race through carefully managed radiation therapy designed to increase strength, intellect and behaviour.

Our plot centres on the lies both societies have been told about the other and what happens when citizens of these two societies come into contact with each other. It also looks at the possibly sinister intentions that lay behind the detonations and issues of class and government.

When I initially started reading Pure I was unconvinced by what I deemed ‘silly’ science – it took me a lot to get over the ‘fused’ characters and the lack of plausible science behind these mutations. It seemed so unrealistic to me that I struggled to focus on the plot while being inundated with mutations that annoyed me. However the plot and the characters slowly grabbed hold of me and I managed to put the scientist in me to the back of my mind, allowing the characters and the intrigue to take over. Some of the plot twists are annoyingly predictable, but there are a few that come as a nice surprise. The author does a good job of creating romantic tension while never making it the main focus and it manages to raise big issues while delivering them in a young-adult-friendly fashion.

One of my only complaints would be that a few of the events seem to very tenuously come out of nowhere, as though the author got to the bit she had planned, got stuck and then suddenly thought of a place the plot could go without it really linking to the events before it. Some of the plot just seems a little fragile for my liking – a little like the end bits of The Passage by Justin Cronin. That said it rounds itself up nicely and I look forward to reading the other books in the trilogy (If I ever finish Game of Thrones!) All in all it isn’t a bad read and I would be happy to encourage teenagers to pick this up!

Update: Apparently their is going to be a film produced by some of the people who made Twilight. hmm…

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