The book Starters by Lissa Price is like Cocoon gone crazy. The story takes place after a war in which toxic spores were released killing everyone between the ages of twenty and sixty because only the very young and very old, considered the most vulnerable, were given the limited vaccine. Callie’s mom died of the sickness and her father was forcibly taken away even though he wasn’t exhibiting any signs of the virus. Callie continued to live in the family home trying her best to take care of her little brother Tyler until the marshalls came to take them, which is what’s been happening to all unclaimed children. However, Callie’s father had prepared for such a future and right before the marshalls came, he sent her a warning.
Callie fled with her brother to squat in an abandoned building. She is joined by her former neighbor Michael, who helps her care for Tyler, who has always been a sickly child. She feels the weight of responsibility for her brother when there isn’t enough for her and Michael to eat, let alone a little boy in poor health. That’s what causes her to make a drastic decision. She has heard about Prime Destinations from a fellow squatter. A hush hush company, Prime Destinations hires teens to rent out their bodies to wealthy Elders who want to experience living in a young body again for a limited period of time. During the exchange, the Elder’s consciousness is transferred into the teen body and the teen’s mind remains asleep during the transaction.
Callie has extreme reservations about the procedure, but what choice does she have? The money will be enough for her to get an apartment for a year and provide food for her brother, as teenagers are not allowed to work in the new post war society. Teens whose grandparents are alive don’t live the desperate lives of unclaimed teens and Callie can’t imagine squatting and running from capture by the marshals until she comes of age to work. Those who have been taken by the marshalls are institutionalized and/or serve in brutal labor camps.
Out of options Callie decides to accept the contract which includes rules about renters not engaging in activities that are risky, renters are not to have sex with real teens, etc., and if any damage happens to the body that the renter will pay a huge fine. Despite these safeguards, Callie wakes up from her first rental with a large gash on her arm, however Prime Destinations uses their advanced plastic surgery techniques to immediately fix the wound without scarring. However, she is shocked to be told her third rental will last a whole month.
When Callie wakes up somewhere other than the Prime Destinations medical lab, she realizes something has gone very wrong. She finds more clues that something is amiss in her rich renter’s home, but before she can decide what to do, she blacks out/goes to sleep again. When she wakes again, she is still not back in the lab and she pretends to be her renter, then things further escalate when she hears a voice in her head, the voice of her renter, and learns the real motivation behind her rental. She, and the people she loves, are in real danger and she must figure out what is going on while not letting on to Prime Destinations who is really awake inside her body.
The level of writing in the story is not sophisticated in the way of Not a Drop to Drink or the Rot & Ruin series, but that’s ok as the concept was enough to keep my interest, as the idea for the book was not one that’s been done before. I could have done without the teen romance element, but as a friend of mine said the other day it seems like all these books have them. I do think in a time of crisis, such as an apocalyptic event or life in a dystopian society that strong emotions need an anchor, but I would argue to authors of this genre, does it have to be in the context of a romantic relationship? For example, in Ashes by Ilsa J. Blick the main character becomes an ad hoc guardian to a young girl she happens upon during an apocalyptic event, a similar relationship develops in Not a Drop to Drink that I think proves an emotional outlet could be something other than a romantic relationship in these stories. I am not completely against authors including them, but only if they are done well, and don’t detract from the storyline.