By Julianna Baggott. Grand Central Publishing. 448 pages. $25.99
Reviewed by Gena Chattin
GENA CHATTIN is a freelance writer from Bristol now living in New Orleans.
Julianna Baggott’s “Pure” seems to have been heavily influenced by “The Hunger Games.” It is the opening shot in a post-apocalyptic trilogy that, while not marketed as young adult fiction, certainly feels like it.
Our heroes are teenage male and female protagonists searching for family lost after “detonations” turned the world into a post-nuclear nightmare. It is a broken future where places like Baltimore and D.C. are memories that may never have actually existed.
The government is a sinister entity encased in a biodome that no one ever enters or leaves. Outside, survivors of the detonations have mutated beyond recognition. Survivors are fused with inanimate objects, animals, other human beings, or the ground itself. Military forces do not serve or protect but seemingly run amok shooting survivors for sport.
Setting a story in a post-nuclear America where geography and even the laws of science have changed takes a lot of work. One of the story’s greatest handicaps is that far too many chapters are spent establishing the setting before the plot becomes clear. Repetitive descriptions of clockwork creatures and the monsters created by the fusions become tiresome the longer it takes to find out why the author has chosen to show them to us.
This places too much weight on the characters to carry the story in those early pages. It is easy to identify with Partridge, the male protagonist, inside the Dome. His world still resembles ours, and the reader can learn alongside him about the horrors outside. Shifting to the female protagonist’s perspective, however, all but undoes this. Pressia is far too precious for the world Baggott has created— described so daintily and childlike that it comes as a shock to learn she is actually in her mid-teens. Perhaps it was Baggott’s intention to present a stunted character, but the portrayal does a disservice to an otherwise serious and poignant plot.
Narrative style is also problematic. “Pure” shares “The Hunger Games’ ” present tense narration, which can be distracting without necessarily drawing readers into the action. Additionally, chapters alternate between viewpoints. The Pressia point-of-view chapters take place outside the Dome and offer so little for readers to latch onto that it is sometimes difficult to get through them.
Baggott has created a fascinating world, but this world detracts from her characters, and vital emotional beats fall flat. “Pure” lacks the rich personalities and connection to the audience that has made “The Hunger Games” so successful, and the portion of the story arc completed in this installment is unsatisfying. It will be interesting to see if later installments in the series improve these faults. Baggott has created a world worth seeing, but her efforts could be improved by more interesting tour guides.