Pure by Julianna Baggott is the most disturbing book I have ever read, and I mean that in the best way. The story takes place after nuclear detonations have ravaged the world – well all the world outside the Dome. The main character, Pressia, doesn’t remember much of the Before, the world before the explosions, though she is fascinated by the stories that he grandfather tells her of this time. It allows Pressia a brief escape from the constant reminder of her reality. Pressia, only a little girl when the blasts happened, was holding a doll, which fused around her hand. As terrible as that image is, Pressia’s deformity is mild compared other who were affected by the blasts. Imagine a world where people fused together, now called Groupies. One set of groupies has two men fused side by side and a woman fused into the back of one of them. They may have been strangers waiting for a bus when the detonations occurred and now they not only have to survive such a wrecked world, but they have to do it with people who were strangers before the blast. Then there are the Dusts which cannot even properly be called people anymore. Severely injured by the blasts, they fused with the earth and debris and travel through the ground to rise up and kill their victims, only their eyes and an occasional body part visible through the dust and marking them as once human. However, the most frightening of all are the Mothers. These women once led idyllic lives as suburban housewives. When the Detonations happened these women instinctively held their children in an attempt to shield them from their doom and were fused to their own children. The children were melted into part of their body, but a head or partial body is still visible. The children don’t die, but they don’t grow either. The mothers, with their primal instincts raised, have become magnificent barbarians using the detritus of suburbia, such as lawn darts and golf clubs as weapons in this new savage world. The images of humanity after the blasts are so sickening, yet believable, that I had to wonder what kind of person has such a gruesome imagination, so I sneaked a peek at photos of the author Julianna Baggott. I guess I was expecting to see someone who might have certain unattractive features, perhaps using her own physical insecurities to conjure up images of the wretches, the survivors who live outside the Dome. Instead she has the delicate beauty of a Pure.
Pures are the people who live inside the Dome and were protected from the nuclear blasts because they somehow had the right connections to have been invited in before the Detonations. Partridge, the son of the Dome’s leader lives in this environment. The Pures are unmarked and safe, but Partridge who has a distant father, a brother who committed suicide and a mother who died without making it into the Dome doesn’t feel so lucky. When he hears something that makes him think his mother is still alive, he decides to escape from the Dome to try to find her.
In the meantime, Pressia is about to turn sixteen, an age when children are rounded up by an organization called the OSR to join the militia, which few survive, sending her on a journey of escape. She is aided by Bradwell, a boy who has live birds fused to his back. During her journey through the wastelands she also runs into El Capitan, who is part of the fearsome OSR. El Capitan was riding his motorcycle with his brother Helmud, when the blast hit, fusing his brother to his back. It’s a frightening relationship with Helmud parroting the words of his frustrated brother who feel violent towards him. When Patridge meets Pressia in the world outside the Dome, each finds a truth that shatters them.
Although the trend of dystopian post-apocalyptic fiction has been strong in the world of Young Adult fiction, I am surprised that this book is classified as YA. It’s so grim and dark like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, that a part of me wonders if it’s just too dark for children developing into adults who may not have the emotional maturity and coping skills to deal with it. What do you think?