Starters is a new post-apocalypse dystopia for young adults, by Lissa Price. The premise is a little contrived, but works for the setup of the story. In a not-so-distant future America, medical advances have led to people routinely living to 200 years old. A bacterial weapon, spread by a hostile Pacific Rim country, has wiped out the population between ages 16 and 60 (because the more vulnerable segments of the population were vaccinated first). Kids orphaned by the virus, unless they have grandparents to take them in, become "unclaimed minors." They are not allowed to work (because that would take jobs away from the older people), and if captured by Marshalls, are placed in horrible state institutions. The young are called Starters. The old, Enders.
Callie lives on the streets as a scavenger until concern for her ill younger brother leads her to take part in a frightening new initiative. A company called Prime Destinations offers her the chance to essentially rent out her body. An Ender will control her, via neural chip, while her own brain sleeps. The Ender gets to live for a time in a young, vital body. And Callie gets the promise of enough money to rent a home for her brother, and buy him medicine. It seems almost too good to be true. Until Callie learns that her Ender plans to use her body to commit murder.
Starters is fast-paced and compelling. The plot has plenty of twists and turns. The fact that people can inhabit other people's bodies lends a constant sense of intrigue. You never quite know if someone is who they say they are. In tone and certain themes, Starters reminded me of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series.It's a book that readers will devour quickly. It's almost impossible to put down.
And yet, Starters raises intriguing questions, too. I'd like to be able to say that Starters isn't plausible. Not so much the science (though that's a scary concept), but more the utter callousness with which the dominant Enders treat the vulnerable young Starters. The gap between the haves and have-nots in Price's world, like the gap between the old and the young, is enormous. But neither gap is an inconceivable extrapolation of current trends. Thoughtful teen readers will find Starters chilling.
I also think that Price did a good job of conveying near-post-apocalypse nostalgia. Like this:
"I added pajamas to my internal list of things that I missed. Flannel, warm from the dryer. I was tired of always being dressed, ready to run or fight. I ached for fluffy jammies and a deep, forget-the-world sleep." (Chapter One)
"The smell of cinnamon filled the kitchen and made my heart ache. It reminded me of happy weekend brunches Mom, Dad, Tyler, and I used to have when we were a family." (Chapter Six)
She uses a light hand with such passages, but there are enough to make any reader stop for a moment of gratitude for day-to-day life and family. I think that these moments of gratitude are one of the reason that I enjoy post-apocalyptic novels so much, actually. I wonder how many teen readers feel the same?
It's not really possible for Price to include a lot of character development for most people in Starters. Many aren't even the same person from scene to scene. And it's often unsafe for people to reveal much about themselves anyway. That's ok. It completely works for the book. But Callie, the first person narrator, is likeable and has a solid teen perspective. Like this:
"My brain, no less. Probably my favorite body part. No one ever complained about a fat brain. No one ever accused their brain of being too short or too tall, too wide or too narrow. Or ugly. It either worked or it didn't, and mine worked just fine. I prayed it still would after the surgery." (Chapter Two)
Who wouldn't like her? She includes a little Cinderella sub-theme to some of her internal musings, too, a nice contrast to a generally more cynical worldview.
Starters ends not quite on a cliffhanger, but certainly with questions outstanding. I look forward to the sequel, Enders, due later this year.
I'm expecting Starters to be a hit. It positively oozes teen appeal, for boys or girls. It raises intriguing moral and scientific questions. And the twisty, action-packed plot will keep readers of all ages turning the pages. Highly recommended.
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: March 13, 2012
Source of Book: Advance review copy from NetGalley
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).