Julianna Baggott’s “Pure” has all the elements necessary to be a wonderful dystopic novel, and in parts, shows itself to be an interesting read. It feels suited for a more mature audience that can handle the level of violence and recurring, bleak themes within the work, depicting a society of lost luxuries and a stark divide between two realms. Within the Dome – a place untouched by the destruction, death, and imperfections of the outside world, Partridge makes a bold escape in order to find his mother, whom he believes to be alive outside the Dome. Within the Dome, only those deemed fit and untouched by sickness are incorporated into the society, as it functions within its own restrictions. On the outskirts of the Dome, 16-year old Pressia lives with her grandfather and reminisces of a time before the massive amounts of death, destruction, and when simple pleasures could be taken for what they were. She also laments the deformities, manipulation, and pain she’s had to experience in her time outside the Dome. When these teens unite, they have a connection that slowly unravels as they search for Partridge’s mother, and find themselves entangled in a web of lies, deception, and an overarching struggle for power.
I sat on my hands at least a day after reading this book. As I consider it in the aftermath, it never measured up to the level of the epic story it was trying to tell, having great ideas, but lacking the execution to bring these ideas home. Sure, there were moments in this that hooked me enough to find out what happened, especially toward the end when it found a comfortable stride in the action/reaction dynamic. However, it was a struggle getting there, so much that I found myself putting the book down several times and wondering if I would eventually finish it. Finish I did, but not without great effort.
There’s very little to no emotional resonance within “Pure” as a whole – a lot of dialogue (internal and external) but little depth or essence. The progression from character to character perspective feels threadbare in structure. It takes a long time for the novel to hit the ground running with the overarching plot. The story jumps from one perspective character to the next (among a total of four, if I recall: Pressia, Partridge, El Capitan, and Lyda), but there’s a point when the author becomes inconsistent, particularly towards the end, and starts headhopping in a haphazard way. At the very least, I have to say that Baggott’s ambitious for toggling between these perspectives. I usually don’t mind a novel doing this if the characters are rounded and interesting enough to stand on their own, with the events that impact them blaring loud and clear. However, there are times when the reader may lose focus in the novel from a particular perspective and have to think back a bit as to what the character did from a previous section or consider what ties it has to the overall plot. For some sections, there are keys to the larger plotline, but it can be hard to tell in the sea of prose. I did appreciate the perspectives of Pressia and El Capitan the most in the work, considering the intrigue and involvement their characters had in fighting against the conflicts they faced directly in the scheme of the work.
But don’t get me started on the lackluster, forced romance contained in the story – it felt a bit constructed in haste.
This reads more fantasy than sci-fi, though the depictions of certain mutations were fascinating as they manifested through the work. Some of the depictions actually do work in the scheme of the world depicted, but I’m not sure how I feel about the certain inclusions of popular namesakes. Disney, for example. The story seems intentionally distant from our own world, but at the same time, it has loose ties to try to give it a familiar element, so I’m not sure where the story sought to land when creating this realm. I almost wish it had created its own separate, distinct imagery, rather than heavily borrowing from popular tropes, to make the experience more vivid.
Overall, it ended up being a lukewarm read for me, and I’m not sure if I’ll read the sequel, but I did enjoy it enough for it to have left positive impressions on me for what it wanted to offer. It’s just one of those stories where I felt if it were told a different way, it could’ve shined much more than what it did.
Overall score: 3/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Grand Central Publishing.