Review of “Pure” by Julianna Baggott

Julianna Baggott’s gripping and stunningly imaginative dystopia provides an immersive experience that guarantees we understand the horrific results of the “detonations” that destroyed the world.

This dark tale is full of characters who physically fused with their surroundings during the heat of the bombs. These were no ordinary bombs but nanotech-enhanced weapons that disrupted molecular structures. That means there are now people who are part bicycle, or flecked with glass, or even fused with one another. The heroine of the story, Pressia, was 7 at the time of the detonations, and because she was holding a doll at the time, one of her hands now is the doll’s head.

When the story begins, Pressia is just about to turn 16, an age at which all citizens must turn themselves over to OSR, or Operation Sacred Revolution, the organization that now rules the city. OSR claims it is training people to take over the Dome, an experimental environment constructed before the Detonations. The Dome was intended to provide sustainable living in the event of nuclear or biological attacks or environmental disasters. Those who happened to be inside of the Dome at the time of the Detonations are the only ones who survived intact, and are known by those outside the Dome as “Pures.” Those outside are known as “Wretches.”

Most Wretches believe that the Pures are a benevolent, godlike group, who are only waiting until it is safe to come out of the Dome and rescue those on the outside. But then Pressia meets Bradwell, a brooding, intense, attractive boy about her age with scars on his face, and birds fused into his back. He teaches an underground course called “Shadow History,” in which he reveals disturbing information about how and why the Detonations really happened, and how and why some got into the Dome and some didn’t.

In addition to Pressia, a Wretch, the book also follows the story of Partridge, one of the Pures. Partridge’s father, Ellery Willux, is one of the most powerful men in the Dome, but Partridge perceives him as evil, and wants to escape the Dome and find out the truth about what happened to the world and to his mother, who never made it into the Dome.

In the meanwhile, things are heating up on the outside. The OSR is increasing its schedule of “death sprees,” which is when they let soldiers form tribes for 24 hours and compete to kill people, the idea being to winnow the weak from the general population. They also are increasing neighborhood patrols, and in particular, they seem to be looking specifically for Pressia.

Pressia, Partridge, and Bradwell are about to have their worlds collide, and in the process, everything they thought they knew will get upended.

Discussion: There is not one aspect of this book that is not stimulating. The author has taken the usual dystopia format and transformed it with China-Mieville-imaginative style, turning it into a nightmarish landscape with astounding creativity and realistic social and political developments.

The horrors of the pre-Detonation world are not overlooked by Baggott either. Of particular note is the “Feminine Feminists” movement, advocating dedication to home and family, whose female members must be covered head to toe in whole-body hosery.

Baggott’s story poses many questions, including: What happens to the human spirit when the world has gotten so deformed? Can love and goodness survive a world turned dark and brutal? At what point does hope seem quixotic? This book offers up a rich array of answers through some unforgettable characters.

Evaluation: Although this is only the first of a trilogy, I would not hesitate to read this book as soon as you can get your hands on it. It is head-and-shoulders above most of the other dystopias you will read, and one of the most unique stories generally I have read in a long time.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group, 2012

Note: Pure just blew me away, but it isn’t the first time this author has done that to me. The first was with her middle grade book (for heaven’s sakes!), The Prince of Fenway Park (see my review here), which actually had me jumping up and down as the denouement approached! This author, who writes poetry and essays as well as other books under the names Bridget Asher and N. E. Bode, is very talented, and I think she is well worth your time if you have not yet experienced her work.

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21 Responses to Review of “Pure” by Julianna Baggott

  1. cbjamess says:

    You have me interested. Sound to me like I should check out The Prince of Fenway Park, though.

  2. Sandy says:

    She was at SIBA last year, and after the event was over, all of the bloggers were sitting around musing on the highlights. It was then that I realized 1) I did not get a copy of this book, 2) I’d read Baggott before in “Which Brings Me To You” which was an absolute delight and finally 3) I am an idiot.

  3. Aths says:

    Sounds fabulous! I’ve been looking for ‘great’ dystopia lately, so this is something I am going to definitely read.

  4. BermudaOnion says:

    Wow! I got this at SIBA last year and it hasn’t called to me, but you’ve made me think I should get to it soon!

  5. Biblibio says:

    “imaginative dystopia” – I wasn’t aware such a thing even existed!

    I jest, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to sort through young adult literature of this brand and find original, truly good books. I’m glad you enjoyed the book and recommend it (which already puts it ahead of many others of its ilk), but I can’t say I’m necessarily intrigued – I’m a bit too jaded by now…

  6. Lisa says:

    Wow – what a unique example of dystopian literature. I have a hard time starting books that are series (I just know I won’t get to the next book in the series until I can’t remember enough about the last one to make it work) but this one sounds like it has plenty to make it worth reading on its own.

  7. Must read this book! I’ve seen a lot of praise floating around on the interwebs but your review put me over the top…I’m thinking I deserve a trip to the bookstore 🙂

  8. Cipriano says:

    What a strong, powerful review. I had just first ever read of this book yesterday in a review by Alyce over at her site At Home With Books, and was impressed…. made a real mental note of the thing. But now, seeing it here again and reading your opinion of it confirms it for me. This one is now on my Definitely Must Buy It list!
    I just LOVE a well-done dystopia, and 5/5 from Rhapsody?
    The thing’s gotta be a gem.

  9. Jenners says:

    Well, it is hard to ignore that kind of praise.

  10. Trisha says:

    I am practically crying and laughing simultaneously after this! I’m laughing because I really love the idea of this read. I’m crying because I just do not need another series to read. 🙂

  11. Staci@LifeintheThumb says:

    Hmmm…my oldest and I have been going over a list of books to choose from to read you know. This one screams potential and so does your 5/5 rating!!

  12. zibilee says:

    I got a chance to grab this book at SIBA after Swapna told me that Baggott was amazing. I think I actually said something lame to her, like ” I have heard this book is amazing”. She was really nice and signed my copy and smiled. I am totally intrigued by this review, and want to grab it out of my stack and start it right now! It sounds so surreal and strange, but also very complex and involving. I loved your review, and will have to pass this one to Sandy when I am done!

  13. Sounds good! I’m kind of in love with the cover!

  14. Very nice review! I have been looking at this book the past week and wondering if I want to read it and now yes, I do. Thanks!

  15. Alyce says:

    I agree that it’s completely unique, original and well written. It was fast paced and I couldn’t put it down, but I was horrified by the world so much that it made me queasy, and I just don’t get queasy reading books. So in that way it’s a credit to her writing, but the world was so weird and so beyond belief for me that it wasn’t really an enjoyable experience. But then, good books don’t have to be enjoyable (but I’d like them to be). I really just didn’t want to spend any more time in that world. It made me feel the same way I feel about zombie lit. It can be fabulous writing and a great plot – I still don’t want to read about those situations.

  16. sagustocox says:

    Wow, 5 out of 5 for a first in a series. I have to check this one out.

  17. Marg says:

    I have read this author under a different name. I liked her voice, but had some issues with the storyline. I have high hopes for this book which I have to read soon.

  18. Kailana says:

    I have been hearing lots of good things about this book and added it to my wish list. I will have to see if the library has a copy.

  19. Julie P. says:

    Wow! You’ve read a ton of books like this and that’s a ringing endorsement!!

  20. Jerry’s not too thrilled with our book club pick for this month, so I have a feeling he’ll be treating himself to this book after our meeting on Saturday. I showed him your review, and he really can’t wait to read this book.

  21. stacybuckeye says:

    Totally not my type of book but if you love it that much I would have to like it, right?

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