Pure by Julianna Baggott

Fiction — print. Grand Central Publishing, 2012. 431 pgs. Purchased.

Fifteen-year-old Pressia survived the Detonations, a nuclear fallout that wiped out most of the Earth’s population and fused the survivors with the animal, rock, or thing closest to them. Pressia fused with the doll she was holding whilst waiting for her grandfather to pick her and her Japanese mother up at the Baltimore-Washington airport, and the doll now covers her right hand — its eyes flipping open or closed depending upon the angle of her wrist — rendering the hand useless. A small, battery-operated fan fused to her grandfather’s neck making it difficult for him to breathe the thicken, ashen air of the post-Detonations world.

Yet, for nearly ten years, Pressia and her grandfather kept each other alive. Pressia’s butterfly trinkets, which she fashions from pieces of junk metal, and her grandfather’s flesh sewing skills as a former taxidermist are traded for food and other necessary items. Now, with her sixteen birthday only days away, Pressia’s grandfather has created a hidden cabinet with an escape hatch so Pressia can avoid reporting to the dreaded OSR. Previously known as Operation Search and Rescue, OSR has turned into a paramilitary organization that patrols the destroyed city and engages in a biyearly competitions to see how many survivors they can kill.

The ranks of the organization are filled with people like Pressia; one of the main leaders, El Captain, fused with his brother so he is perpetually giving his brother a piggyback ride. The organization is supported by those survivors who were lucky enough to be in the Dome — a test facility built in response to climatic change, environmental degradation, and a escalating Cold War — when the Detonations occurred. The residents of the Dome promised they would return to help the survivors when the time came, but no direct interaction with the Dome has occurred since leaflets with the promise were dropped.

That is, until Partridge escapes outside the ventilation system after learning his mother may still be alive. Partridge’s father always claimed his mother died trying to help people into the Dome, but the story has never jived with Partridge’s memory of his mother taking him to a beach and slipping him a pill. The pill has rendered him non-codeable; a process that his brother went through in order to make him a stronger specimen of a man and that Partridge wonders is the reason why his brother killed himself. Outside of the Dome, Partridge teams up Pressia determined to unravel the secret of what happened to his mother.

Baggott’s dystopian world captivates the imagination. Each time I would think of the book, I would look around and wonder what object, animal, or person I would fuse with should the Detonations occur in that moment. A book, my laptop, my cell phone? I also told multiple friends about the book explaining how I hope a film adaption will eventually be made because the book conjures up such visually stunning scenes in my mind. It’s not just the visuals of these fused beings moving throughout the destroyed city. Rather, it’s the way Baggott describes the smoke moving through the gaps in the buildings or the glint of the stars through the darkened sky. It’s a captivating world, and I practically devoured the book.

The novel draws on a unique explanation of cellular biology to underpin the “fusions” that occur throughout the novel and this explanation is provided by a character in a rather heavy-handed monologue. The same can be said of the revelations about what happened pre-Pressia and Partridge finding one another — the founding of the Dome, the reason why some people made it in and others didn’t. I would have liked these details to be sussed out over time rather than being doled out in a series of sort history lessons, and I’m hoping many more will be given in subsequent books because I was still left with so many questions. What happened to the old governments? Are there other domes?

Given the plot and the numerous villains included within the tale, I was surprised at how slowly the story unfolds. It isn’t quite the fast paced, action packed dystopian novel I was expecting to be.  There were sections I thought could have benefited from tighter editing, and dropping a point of view could have possibly help. Lyda, a young girl who served as Partridge’s unwitting accomplish to his escape, was obviously included to keep the reader up to date on what was happening in the Dome. Yet she was separated from the community at large so I never really felt like I understood the Dome. It’s still some magical entity where answers are hard to come by.

That said, I do plan on continuing with the series. The setting — the Dome, the Dustlands, the Meltlands — was such a wonderful spark to my imagination that I’m not quite willing to let that go.

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