Review of PURE by JULIANNA BAGGOTT
(review based on an advance reading copy)
PURE begins with a haunting opening and leads the reader through a sickly wondrous world of unlikely misfortune and all too likely betrayal. This book intrigued me when I first received an ARC before its publication, but despite all the amazing feedback I heard about it, the novel still somehow became one of those that kept finding itself bumped aside for others.
PURE takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where worldwide bombings wiped out a significant portion of the population while mutilating those who survived. Anyone who did survive became fused to whatever they happened to be holding, touching, standing on, etc. at the time of the explosions. Our heroine has a doll in place of her hand. Her grandfather has a small fan in his throat. Another boy has birds on his back. Others are forever joined with another person while some even bonded with sand or other parts of the earth. However, some lucky people escaped both the horror of dying and the horror of surviving. Before the detonations, an isolated dome was built and a lucky few were hustled to safety at the last minute. Themes of class step forward from the subtext once the book touches on who made it into the dome and who didn’t.
Not that it makes any difference to my review, but for those wanting a label I would call this book soft sci-fi. It’s doubtless speculative fiction, but one could argue between fantasy and science fiction. Any technological speculative fiction lends itself to sci-fi, but I always distinguish between what I call hard sci-fi (that delves into almost believable nuts and bolts behind how real science backs up the improbable fiction) and soft sci-fi (that uses science as the explanation without really elaborating any further). Humans being fused to objects or other living things sound more like science fiction than fantasy, but a lot of details aren’t explained scientifically, such as how you can’t cut yourself away from whatever you’re bonded to without dying. Regardless of the label, it’s a great book, but I only mention this because I know many avid science fiction readers who feel frustrated when they pick up a soft sci-fi book that uses the speculative fiction premise as a catalyst for the characters but then doesn’t elucidate how the science works.
I loved this book, because I loved the characters, and quickly, too. The story primarily focuses on Pressia, the girl with the doll for a hand scrambling to survive in the wild wreck of humanity left behind after the detonations, and Partridge, the privileged son of a high power family in the Dome who suspects even his ideal sheltered life hides dangerous secrets he can’t ignore. An interesting side note, though: I’ve primarily seen PURE shelved with adult speculative fiction even though it stars young adult characters. As I discussed in this old blog post, the label Young Adult is far more about marketing than any one defining feature of the story. I can’t easily tell any particular reason PURE makes for better adult fiction than Young Adult except that the publicists no doubt thought it would sell better that way.
My only criticism is that I usually couldn’t picture whatever the author described, be that an action scene or a grotesque creature. The writing still conveyed emotions and impressions easily, so I didn’t feel particularly deprived by not being able to visualize everything - but for whatever reason the writing didn’t convey images to my mind so much as the abstract or emotional gist.
PURE may have been lost in a sea of post-apocalyptic novels around the time of its publication, but the intricate worldbuilding and likable characters make what initially feels like a routine premise suddenly delightfully unique. I certainly won’t wait so long to pick up the next book in the series.