Review of STARTERS by LISSA PRICE
STARTERS possesses a unique and intriguing premise that pulled me in before I so much as opened the book. The novel delivered!
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic futuristic world full of fancy technology...but also consequences for such technology. Bio-warfare led to the mass extinction of every human between 20 and 60 years of age, leaving only two groups: the young and the old - or starters and enders. Starters with an ender grandparent still alive to claim them live safe, secure lives, but those teenagers and children who lost their parents and have no living ender relatives are left to fend for themselves. Teenager Callie takes care of her little brother Tyler with her best friend Michael, but they can’t go on much longer squatting in abandoned buildings, running from ender officials, and barely scraping by for food. Tyler’s sick and Callie knows he needs a better life. Which is the only reason she even considers signing a contract to rent her body.
Technology has progressed to the point that scientists can implant a computer chip into two people’s brains, essentially put one to sleep, and let the other experience life from the first person’s perspective. Of course, these kinds of developments are always driven by money so the business model that emerges is one where young teenage starters desperate for money rent out their bodies to rich, bored enders desperate to experience youth again. Callie knows how creepy, suspicious, and dangerous this sounds...but she’s out of options and they’re offering a big payout. Unfortunately, things turn out to be more complicated than going to sleep, waking up a few days or weeks later, and collecting her money. Much more complicated.
I found the characters believable and likable, especially our heroine Callie. She has a good head on her shoulders and I particularly like that in teenage girl characters, who are often portrayed as single mindedly fixated on romance. Of course, Callie has emotions and mood swings and romantic drives, but she always draws herself back to the most important issue at the moment and will mentally kick herself if she realizes she’s sulking, wallowing, etc.
The book is wonderfully written as well. I break down strong writing into two groups: writing that’s good because you keep noticing it and writing that’s good because you don’t notice it at all. This is the latter kind of good writing, the kind that turns invisible and fades away so you completely forget you’re even reading words and only think about the characters and the story.
Occassionally, I wished for certain information sooner than the author provided it. We’re in Callie’s perspective and sometimes I wanted to know more than she did rather than participate in her uncertain search for answers. In general the plot seems to be arching across multiple books more than this one. There was a slow build up to the “real” problem. (Callie has plenty of problems, but any perceptive reader still knows things are about to get even more complicated than she expected.) Then the book really picks up about halfway and doesn't slow very much for the end, which lends to the feeling that the plot is still arching high across the series as a whole.
I would call STARTERS a plot driven novel. That’s not detrimental to the character development in this case, but a fast pace and unexpected twists definitely provide the primary momentum for this story.
I really enjoyed the themes that emerge from this world’s dynamics, mostly class and power. Nothing new, I know, but always worth discussing. Callie learns some perilously important information, but as long as she holds so little power in this world there’s not much she can do. She’s young, she’s poor, and she’s not connected. She might have the answers to save the world, but it won’t do much good if no one will listen to her.