Monday, July 30, 2012

What We're Reading: Starters

Starters, by Lissa Price
336 pages
Sci fi? or Dystopia?
First of a series
Grade 9 up?
Reviewed by Melissa

I'm not sure whether to call this science fiction or dystopia. It is set in a post-apocalyptic scenario: Some unnamed enemy of the United States has used a deadly spore bomb to devastating effect. The government knew it was coming, and was in the process of vaccinating people; since the young and the elderly were the most vulnerable, they were vaccinated first, and then the spore bombs hit before anyone else could be, so everyone between the ages of 20 and 60 has died, leaving only "Starters" (teens and below) and "Enders" (the elderly).

Previous to the Spore Wars, great advances apparently had been made in longevity, so that the elderly survive into triple digits--120, 150, and maybe beyond--and with those advances, the laws had been changed so that people under the age of 20 were not allowed to work, because this would take jobs away from the old but still able-bodied who needed to support themselves. Now that all the middle-aged are dead, however, this puts the surviving children and teens with no family into an untenable position--it's illegal for them to get a job. The "unclaimed" children and teens without parents or grandparents basically squat in abandoned buildings, scrounging for scraps of food and hiding from the police, who will send them to work crews or to institutions.

Callie, her little brother Tyler, and their friend Michael fall into this category. But something has to change soon, because Tyler (seven) is sick and Callie needs to find the money to provide him with medicines, food, and a better place to live. All the street kids know about this new company--Prime Destinations, otherwise known as the Body Bank--where you can "rent" your body to an Ender who wants to experience youth again. They put a chip in your head, you black out for three days or a week or a month, and some old person uses your body. Then they pay you a big fat fee. Callie reluctantly decides she has no other choice; but a week into her renter's third, month-long "trip," something goes wrong: Callie wakes up, but instead of being at Prime Destinations in the lab, she's in a nightclub, dressed in her renter's clothes, out with her renter's sports car (which she isn't sure she can drive), with no memory of what has happened and no idea what she should do next--and then she starts hearing a voice in her head; someone named Helena is talking to her. Is she going crazy?

I had heard a certain amount of buzz about this book before I read it. One of the librarians who likes dystopian fiction gave it a thumbs up, and quite a few patrons have been asking for it--it spends a lot of time checked out. So when I saw it on the shelf on Friday, I decided to read it and see for myself.

I liked it! It's well written, the science is fairly believable, the characters are memorable, and the author made me care what happened to them. The story line keeps you wanting to find out what happens next, and in addition to the original intriguing premise (the body renting), there is romance, there is a dastardly plot, there is high drama.... There are a couple of rushed moments where I felt like she was glossing over some things that should have received equal weight with the rest of the book, but all in all I felt it was a solid effort and definitely worth reading! As a major science fiction fan, it bothers me that some of the young adult authors who are setting their books in a sci fi world don't take more pains with getting the science right and making it believable (let alone the world-building), but Price did a pretty good job here. I also enjoyed that it was set in Los Angeles--Beverly Hills, the Valley, Bel Air, Mulholland Drive all appear in the narrative and give it a sense of possibility: This could happen, right here in your world. (Of course, if I were from Ohio, I wouldn't care about that so much!)

The sequel, Enders, is supposed to release December 4, but inside information tells me it may not until 2013. There is also extra material contained in an e-book--Portrait of a Starter, available for Kindle for $1.99. It says on the back pages of Starters that there are two more stories due out, one July 10 and one October 9, but I couldn't find the July 10 one on Amazon yet.

I wasn't crazy about the cover. I see what they were trying to do, presenting a face from which all flaws have been removed, like the Starters who go to Prime Destinations to get polished for their renters--but the washed-out, blanked-out "negative" effect comes across as too creepy for me. Okay, maybe that was the idea...but I still don't like it! Here at the left is the German cover--do you like it better? I can't decide. The U.S. cover is more true to what happens in the book (especially the computer chip background), but I find the German cover more appealing and possibly more intriguing.

Lissa Price has a blog, where you can also see the Korean cover (I tried to download it to put here, but the photo was locked), which is a big departure from either one of these. (You have to scroll down a couple of pages to find it.) Price lives in So. Cal., so maybe we can get her to come see us at BPL sometime!

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