Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: Pure by Julianna Baggott

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. 


Wow.  I don't even...

I mean, there's just so much to...

What can I say about this book that hasn't

This book is so...gross.  That's it, that's how I'm going to start this review: this book is gross.  And frightening.  It's everything Anna Dressed in Blood wishes it was—disgusting and terrifying.  I mean, homicidal ghosts?  Pshh.  That's child's play.  But post-apocalyptic life with all the food shortages, diseases, no order, no normalcy, mutants—like really nasty looking mutant-y mutants—and horrible ways to die around every corner?  Now that's what I call pants-peeing, nightmare-inducing, huddle-in-corner-crying-out-for-your-momma scary.  As far as I'm concerned that's not a bad thing.

Funny thing is, this cover did not in any way prepare me for the demented, never-ending county fair Fun House I entered.  I mean, it looks so innocent, doesn't it?  All pretty-like with a sophisticated font and gorgeous sapphire-blue butterfly.  It looks like a fairly tame book about something fresh and...pure, am I right?  Probably something about Soul Mates and rainbows and unicorns.  You know, the sort of cutesy idealized thing that typically makes me want to chuck a book across a room.

But it's not.

I figured out there is a reason for that, by the way, the whole innocent-looking-on-the-outside-but-jacked-up-on-the-inside thing this book has going for it, but that's not something I'm going to discuss in this review.

I want to give Pure more stars because, story-wise, it is pretty enjoyable, for the most part.  And the gross-out factor is off the charts a-mazing, same goes for the scare factor.  But did Julianna Baggott write a five-star worthy read?  Not so much.  I mean, sure, when it comes to recent YA genre dystopias/post-apocalyptic books Pure is sort of up there with The Hunger Games and Ship Breaker, beating out all of the other competition.

But...truthfully?  I wasn't so wholly invested that I was able to overlook all the sciencefail! and believabilityfail!  And it's not like I'm one of those people who find it difficult to suspend disbelief.  I read plenty of books with ridiculous and often impossible story lines and I'm able to believe those just fine.  It's just, for whatever reason, there was much that didn't work for me because the author didn't sell it right or whatever.

For example there is this one character that somehow knows everything about everything, even taught himself how to read Japanese.  Keep in mind said character raised himself in a post-apocalyptic hellhole from the time he was nine years old.  I mean, come on!  The world as we know it has ended, death and destruction and scary mutants are everywhere.  And you want me to believe some little kid, who is taking care of himself is like "Gee, I sure miss everything.  I think I'll teach myself how to read Japanese because it might actually come in handy some day.  You know, since Japanese above all other languages is the one I'm most-likely going to need to know how to read."  No!  I don't buy it.  Orphan be learning how to fend for himself in a cruel every-mutant-for-himself world, not teaching himself how to read Japanese OR study nanotechnology in-depth.

And at no point during this book did I learn how our world got from how things are today to some crazy-go-nuts uber-religous society that shuns modern feminism in favor of some brand of not-feminist feminism to eventually blowing itself to high hell.  This bugs me.

If I were to be completely honest, for whatever reason I couldn't stop thinking about one of my favorite children's books of all time while I was reading Pure.  It's called Everyone is Different.  If you don't know what I'm talking about go read it, I'll wait right here.

Are you done?  Great book, right?

Pure is pretty much the same as Everyone is Different.  I mean, you know, basically.  Maybe there isn't any squirrel-handedness going on in Pure but there sure is a lot of doll-head-handedness and bird-backedness going on.  Instead of characters being fangoriously devoured by a gelatinous beast there's a lot of characters being fangoriously devoured by dust-beasts and other such mutants.  There are weird names, like Partridge and Pressia and El Capitan.  Some characters are tall and merciless.  Some characters are about to be hit by cars and other characters who have rigged the "enemy base" with explosives.  There may even be a point in which no two characters are not on fire.  And yes, in this book everyone is different.  

I wish I could give this book four or five stars, but I can't.  That said, I still do like it and I'm going to recommend it to anyone looking for a post-apocalyptic read.  Three stars.

Review: Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

 Lyn is a neo-gladiator's daughter, through and through. Her mother has made a career out of marrying into the high-profile world of televised blood sport, and the rules of the Gladiator Sports Association are second nature to their family. Always lend ineffable confidence to the gladiator.  Remind him constantly of his victories. And most importantly: Never leave the stadium when your father is dying. The rules help the family survive, but rules and the GSA can also turn against you. When a gifted young fighter kills Lyn's seventh father, he also captures Lyn's dowry bracelet, which means she must marry him... For fans of The Hunger Games and Fight Club, Lise Haines's debut novel is a mesmerizing look at a world addicted to violence; a modern world that's disturbingly easy to imagine.


I want to give Girl in the Arena four--possibly even five--stars, because it has something few other books I've had the pleasure of reading has. Something I've been looking for, desperately, within YA fiction. Something that just...I don't know... Just speaks to me, I guess; feels true. I can relate to it, to the protagonist, how she feels. I understand her because, in a way, I was her.  Maybe, from time to time, I still am her.

To help you understand where I'm coming from I need to go back. Way back. Back to August 3, 2008, when I finished reading the flaming garbage pile that is called Breaking Dawn. As I closed the book, I sat back and contemplated what I'd just read. I was speechless at first, trying to pinpoint why Bella's picture perfect Happily Ever After made me angry beyond all reason.

The next morning I called my friends, asked them what they thought of the book. And you know what? I was shocked--shocked!--to discover none of my friends were dissatisfied. So I ran to the internet--to GoodReads--and sought out others who felt the way I did. I discovered a little group of disillusioned Twilight fans and together we ripped Breaking Dawn to shreds. Upon doing so, I saw what it was that bugged me so much: EVERYTHING.  The entire book.

I especially hated how everyone was eating that piece of creeptastic wish-fulfillment up and begging for more.  Listening to people refer to it as 'beautiful literature' was enough to stoke my fiery rage.   I was embarrassed for every grown woman who referred to stalkerific Edward as the perfect man. I felt bad for the teens who thought Edward and Bella were the epitome of twu wuv--The ideal.

So stupid, the lot of them, I thought to myself. I'm glad my girls are too young to read the Twilight series. It was then a bunch of horrible and very-much insane thoughts popped into my head.

Oh, holy crap! My girls--my babies!--will grow up and they might read this garbage and think it's romantic. What if they start wishing to be just like Bella? What if they allow their lives to revolve around "beautiful" and mysterious boys? What if they lose the best parts of themselves in pursuit of an unrealistic, bastardized version of romantic love? They'll become pathetic losers. Weaklings with no identities, no goals to call their own. No one will respect them! They'll die alone! In vomit-filled gutters!  Oh, the humanity!

Clearly I was being crazy, but can you blame me? Twilight mania had just set in--worldwide might I add. It was an ugly time in history.

I was upset Twilight was this Really Big Deal, had such a massive following. I hated that no one could shut up about it--not even me! I kept wondering what I could do to insure my girls wouldn't grow up to be useless human beings like Bella Swan.  And then it came to me: keep teaching them. Encourage them to be themselves, to be proud of who they are.  Teach about setting goals and what steps to take in order to accomplish them. Encourage them to think for themselves, teach them self-reliance.

There was a bunch of other things I resolved to do, but I couldn't figure out how to solve the pesky problem of the Twilight series and books that were similar.  I was never going to forbid my girls from reading them, but I wanted them to be smart enough to see past all the glitter and not get too caught up in the fantasy.

I came up with the idea of building a little library, a collection made up of the best books.  I wanted it to be something my girls could enjoy, so of course it needed a killer YA selection.  But what books would I put there?  It would have to contain more than just the classics, that I was sure, but was there any contemporary YA literature that was worthwhile?  At that time I just didn't know.

And that, my fellow GoodReaders, is when I started reading everything YA in pursuit of awesome books with really great protagonists.  Over the years I've read some heinous stuff, but I've also had the opportunity to read some truly beautiful literature.  This book, Girl in the Arena, is, in some ways, among the best of the best.  It contains a pretty solid message without being preachy.  It brings up some legitimate questions, questions teenage girls should be asking themselves if they aren't already doing so.  Questions I once asked, about who I was, what I stood for, how strongly I stood for it, what lengths I'd go in order to be true to myself, and whether or not I cared how my actions might affect family members and other loved ones.  This book? Asks all those questions and more.  It introduces some interesting ideas, too.  Honestly, I got lost within the pages of Girl in the Arena.  In some ways it was a really great, near ideal, reading experience.

All of that said, this book is riddled with flaws.  Errors of all sort, big and little.  Glaring ones that made me want to give up on this book early on.  The world-building is pretty weak in some places, non-existent in others.  This book assumes I know exactly what's going on in the protagonists world.  But see, I don't.  I don't even know what year it's supposed to be.  I was never sold on the Gladiator culture, why they all did what they did.  I didn't understand why anyone would adhere to such stringent rules, rules that interfered/controlled their personal lives so thoroughly.  Especially when religion was in no way part of the equation.  Was the government involved?  What happened to the government, exactly?  Where were the protestors, the people who opposed gladiatorial battles to the death?  Where was PITA?  Why weren't they throwing buckets of blood at the gladiators who fought and killed animals in the arena?

The writing style was enough to make me want to poke my eyes out (until I got used to it).  Instead of using quotation marks to indicate dialogue, the author used em dashes.  At first I wasn't always sure who was saying what.  It looks like this:

—Maybe we should stop eating meat.

    —You better talk with Allison, I said. —The freezer is half cow.

    —We could give it away.

    —Before she gets home? I joked.

    He got another knife out of the drawer and began to cut up the tomatoes. 

    —Sure, why not?  he said earnestly.  

See what I mean?  Really annoying.  And really, who writes like that?

There are other things that bothered me, but I don't care to go into all that, especially since I pretty much love this book despite all the flaws.  I know it doesn't quite make sense considering how picky I can be.  I can't say I completely understand why I feel the overwhelming need to overlook the glaring technical imperfections and give this book three stars, but I do.

This book just speaks to me on multiple levels.  And no, it's not because of some convoluted love story (although, yeah, there is the beginnings of a love story but that isn't a major element of the book).  It's just about a girl trying to do the "right" thing, whatever that may be, and not lose herself in the process.  She wants more than what her upbringing says she's allowed to have.  She wants to be more.  In the end she is and I can't imagine a more beautiful Happily Ever After than that.  After all, that's what I want for myself, for my girls.

Officially 3-stars.  Unofficially 5-stars.