Pure by Julianna Baggott

Publisher: Headline
Pages: 448
Year: 2012
Buy: Hardback, Paperback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

Pure by Juliana BaggottReview
It is ten years or so since the Detonations. Nuclear war has destroyed earth as anyone would know it, creating instead pockets of grotesquely distorted remembered towns and states now called Meltlands or Deadlands. The Pure are those who were chosen to survive and sealed away in the Dome. The unlucky survivors outside are barely human. All of them have abnormalities, fusions created during the Detonations when they were melted to whatever they were touching at the time. The most unfortunate have melded to animals, creating new beasts, or even to the earth itself, becoming Dusts, the most horrifying of all. Most have metal and plastic in their skin.

At 16 years old, survivors are stolen by the corrupt OSR, the original search and rescuers, and turned into hunters or, if their deformities are too debilitating, the hunted. Pressia, the young heroine of Pure, with a doll’s head for a hand, is about to turn 16. She chooses to run. Her excuse is to help a stranger, Partridge, who is on a personal mission to find someone who may hold the key to a possible future for everyone. Partridge doesn’t have a mark on him. He is Pure.

From the first page I was committed to Pure. The imagination that has conjured up these poor souls is extraordinary. This entire world is completely believable and tied to the one we know by the memories that the survivors tell each other. Their game is to describe what went before and these little flashbacks – brief and almost forgotten – add new horror to the sights and experiences that Pressia and Partridge must undergo on their quest to search out Partridge’s mother. Many of the encounters are horrific – women who are blended to the babies at their hip, babies that now cannot age, or a boy with living birds attached to his back, constantly fluttering their wings, a man with a dog for a leg, or a human with a cross on their chest from standing too close to a metal-framed window when the blast occurred, with so little warning, and yet humanity holds on. The plants and trees themselves haven’t survived unscathed. Everything is poisonous.

Meanwhile, the Dome observes.

The universe of Pure is so rich and deep that it has surprises on almost every page. Each person encountered, every building passed or entered, is abnormal and yet also familiar. Adding to this extraordinary range is the style of the narration. There are several voices as chapters are adopted by different perspectives – Pressia, Partridge, Lydia in the Dome and El Capitain, a member of the dreaded OSR. Each of these narrators has their own goals, memories and burdens.

Running through Pure is the mystery that drives Partridge and Pressia on, throwing light on the Dome and on the causes of the Detonations. There are some coincidences here that are possibly too convenient but these are overshadowed by the sheer wealth of the world through which Baggott’s imagination and extraordinary skill as a writer drives us.

Pure is, ostensibly, a Young Adult novel. I would argue that anyone would benefit from spending time in these pages. It is truly horrifying in places – some images will stay with me for a long time – but this is counterbalanced by the bravery and hope of the young heroes. I was not surprised to hear that Fox has snapped up the film rights. It is such a visual book, perfectly imagined and described and populated by terrifying demons and young survivors.

The proof advance copy for this was perfectly white, with PURE written in shiny silver, only visible by a twist of the cover. Such an effective cover for a very clever book.

Pure is published in the UK on 2 February, 2012.

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