Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) We know you are here, our brothers and sisters . . .
Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run.
Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . .
There are those who escaped the apocalypse unmarked. Pures. They are tucked safely inside the Dome that protects their healthy, superior bodies. Yet Partridge, whose father is one of the most influential men in the Dome, feels isolated and lonely. Different. He thinks about loss-maybe just because his family is broken; his father is emotionally distant; his brother killed himself; and his mother never made it inside their shelter. Or maybe it’s his claustrophobia: his feeling that this Dome has become a swaddling of intensely rigid order. So when a slipped phrase suggests his mother might still be alive, Partridge risks his life to leave the Dome to find her.
When Pressia meets Partridge, their worlds shatter all over again.
Thoughts: Julianna Baggott’s post-apocalyptic tale is one that has been hyped in many places around the blogosphere lately, and let me tell you, it certainly does live up to that hype. It met all of my expectations and exceded them, as it didn’t fall prey to so many of the tropes that I find so annoying about this genre. The story was focused on survival and revolution rather than romance, about discovering the self and shedding the past rather than finding one’s way to one’s soulmate. I’m not saying that there were no romantic set-ups within the story, but they weren’t the ones I expected, and they were a minor thing, a couple of side-plots that were far overshadowed by the main plot. Which is, as I’ve mentioned in the past, just how I like it.
The story is written in the third person, which is a switch from the increasingle-popular first-person narrative, but keeps you in the moment by doing something I’ve only seen in a real minority of books — it’s also written in the present tense rather than the more common past-tense. This takes a bit of getting used to, but it also allows the reader to really sink into the story, to relate to characters on a level that sometimes even first-person viewpoints don’t allow. Given that the viewpoint switched from chapter to chapter, this was a wonderful way to accomplish that. It’s something that isn’t often done, but when it is, it’s done well!
The setting itself is an interesting one. There’s the Dome, where the privileged few live, safe from the ravages of a nuclear apocalypse. Those outside the Dome are deformed, fused to animals or stone or pieces of whatever happened to be touching their bodies at the time the bombs detonated. And they’re the lucky ones. Some have become beasts in nature as well as shape. Animals have mutated. Plants have mutated. Food and water is scarce. And to make matters worse, a military group rules society by fear. The people may not be present, but the fear of them is. But things are not as simple as they seem at first glance, and there are layers upon layers of intrigue, conspiracy, and plots on all sides. The whole thing is a proto-dystopia, that time in history after the destruction of the old way but before the dystopian attitude and structure really kicks in.
Baggott also needs to be praised for her adept handling of foreshadowing and revelation. There were very few moments where I said to myself, “I saw that coming three chapters ago.” I found myself trying to put together pieces of the puzzle along with the characters, and often came to the right answer only paragraphs before they did. All the pieces fit, but they weren’t glaringly obvious, and weren’t set up in such a way that the only thing needed to put them together was the arrival of a new character with a new piece of information. Honestly, I think this book and its handling of mysteries could serve as an example to many authors who want to set up complex plots but who may not have the best idea on how to string everything together.
This rich and well-developped world pulled me in and didn’t let me go easily. I devoured this book, page after page, and related to characters in ways I didn’t expect myself to. Baggott’s sharp turns of phrase and flowing observations made this book a delight to read, and I’m very happy that it’s the first part of a series. I’m very much looking forward to the next book already.
I can safely say that this book is highly recommended, not just to those who enjoy YA fiction but also those who are looking for any novel with a complex and interesting world. As I said previously, the proto-dystopian setting of this book isn’t one that’s seen very often, and it can appeal to both fans of dystopian and post-apocalyptic tales. If you get the chance, read this book, and let it serve as an example of just how dark and mature a young adult story can be.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)