“Always walk in the light. Follow your soul. May it have wings.”
– Pure by Julianna Baggott
Set in a future where a cataclysmic atomic event known as the Detonations turned the world into a nightmarish landscape inhabited by mutated survivors – many fused to inanimate objects, animals, or other people – the wretches, as they are called, live a hellish existence while the Pures live protected inside the Dome, “a glittering fortress” enhanced by deadly weapons and wildly advanced technologies.
Ripkard Crick Willux (aka Partridge) is a 17-year old Pure who has lived his entire life within the safety of the Dome. He has been fed, educated, and genetically modified, but he feels trapped within the strict social confines of the Dome. He hates his father, one of the Dome’s administrative leaders, and – through a series of fateful discoveries – believes that his beloved mother is still alive somewhere in the wastelands outside of the Dome. He makes it his mission to somehow escape the supposed paradise…
• “Then the sheep emerge from the trees, hobbling along on dainty, mangled hooves… their tongues are quick, almost sharp looking, some shining like razors. Their fur is beaded with water, matted in hunks. Their eyes rove out of sync, and their horns – sometimes too many horns to count, sometimes a row of horns, a spiked ridge down the beast’s back – are grotesque…”
• “His foot is gone. One of his pant legs is cuffed. And instead of a knee, there’s the neck bone of a dog, its furred cranium, its bulged eyes, jaw, teeth. Is the man’s leg part of the dog’s vertebrae?”
• “Her pale skin has almost completely grown over the pearls around her neck. They look like a strand of perfectly shaped tumors...”
And those are nowhere near the worst of what Pressia and Partridge witness – I’ll let you discover the rest yourself!
Undoubtedly one of the darkest post-apocalyptic novels for young adults I’ve ever read, Baggott’s horrific vision of the future contains some unlikely enlightenment. Is what a person looks like on the outside truly important? Is Pressia lessened in some way because of her mutation? I loved the sequence where Bradwell, a conspiracy theorist who risks his life to help Pressia, tells her that her scars are beautiful. Whether we chose to admit it or not, we all have scars of some sort – and it’s those scars that make us who we are.
"Bradwell sits up and touches the scar with his fingertip. He looks at her as if his eyes are taking in her entire face, her eyes, her cheeks, her lips. Normally, she’d look away, but she can’t. 'The scar is beautiful,' he says…”
Baggott is an award-winning poet – and it shows in this novel. Bleak, terrible, and darkly lyrical, I highly recommend Pure to anyone who enjoys visionary apocalyptic fiction. Although the major characters are teenagers and the book is being marketed as a young adult novel, its impact will affect anyone who reads it regardless of age – just a harrowing, haunting, and unforgettable read.
“…and she imagines how the soot will cover the earth again with a new dusting, black snow, a blessing of ash.”
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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