Book Review: Starters by Lissa Price

Hearing his words made it all too real. Creepy old Enders with arthritic limbs taking over this teen’s body for week, living inside his skin.

Starters (Starters, #1)
Starters by Lissa Price
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A year ago, Callie lived the life of an average teenager in Southern California. She lived in a house with her mom and her dad and her little brother, Tyler. Then the war that had been raging so far away hit home with the detonation of a Spore missile and the subsequent disease that killed almost everyone between the ages of 20 and 60. Without older living relatives to claim them, Callie and Tyler have been on the run from the authorities, squatting in abandoned buildings and fighting off dangerous Renegades. They are running out of resources, and Tyler is ill. But in Beverly Hills, there is a place called Prime Destinations, a company that will pay handsomely if she will do the nearly unthinkable: allow them to use her body as a rental for elderly “Enders” to experience being young again. Desperate, Callie signs on, only to learn that both Prime Destinations and her final renter have plans worse than she could have imagined.


A post-apocalyptic Los Angeles is the setting for this entry in the popular Dystopian YA genre. In Price’s version of the near future, the “sandwich generation” is gone, leaving a world populated by elderly “Enders” who now live well in their second century and under-20 “Starters”, who have no rights at all until they come of age at 19. The lucky ones are those with grandparents, great-grandparents, and other senior relatives to “claim” them. The unlucky ones are on the run, scrounging for food, hiding out in filthy squats, hoping to run out the clock to age 19 before getting picked up by the authorities and locked up in an Institution. Prime Destinations is strongly reminiscent of the eponymous location in Joss Whedon’s short-lived series Dollhouse, with the twist that the clients are actually inhabiting the “dolls”.

The interesting premise is undermined by some shaky world-building. With people living to 200, it seems like there would be more living grandparents, great-grandparents, great-aunts and -uncles, and other relatives available to claim kids like Callie and her brother. What happened to their own grandparents (and great-grandparents) is never explained. The only Enders and Claimed Minors Callie encounters are wealthy; what happened to the middle- and working-class kids who had living relatives to claim them? Finally, while it is clear that the post-war world is a huge change for Callie (and everyone else), life before the war was clearly different from what we know, but it is unclear how things got from here to there.

The characters populating this world are also problematic. Callie’s fierce determination makes her an appealing heroine. Unfortunately, she is the only character who really gets any development. After Tyler and Callie’s friend Michael are introduced early on, they spend most of the novel “off-screen”, as Callie is separated from them. Even secondary characters who are more involved in the plot are left static. Complicating this, of course, is the whole body-switching issue; after first meeting someone, he may be quite literally a different person the next time he appears! There are several supplementary stories slated to appear in addition to the sequel that look like they might explore the characters a bit more.

Despite the flaws, this is a promising debut novel. The plot is compelling enough to distract from the sorts of questions that make it impossible to suspend disbelief (at least, until putting it down), and a final twist keeps the reader on the hook for the forthcoming sequel. This is an enjoyable, entertaining read. Just try not to pick at the details.

On shelves March 13, 2012.


Final Word:
An intriguing premise and compelling plot compensate for some shaky world-building in this promising Dystopian YA debut.


e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request


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