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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Book Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

They called the world beyond the walls of the Pod ‘the Death Shop.’ A million ways to die out there.

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1)

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Aria has lived her whole life within the walls of Reverie. She spends most of her time physically seated in the lounge while visiting a variety of virtual Realms via her Smarteye patch. The Realms are, the advertising slogan goes, “Better than Real”. Outside, the world is a largely barren wasteland under a sky of swirling Aether populated by tribes battling for survival.

One of those tribes is the Tides, led by their Blood Lord, Vale. Vale’s younger brother, Peregrine, is gifted with extranormal senses of sight and smell, making him an excellent hunter. His devotion to his nephew, Talon, keeps him from challenging Vale for Blood Lord.

When Talon is kidnapped, Peregrine sets out to get him back. Along the way, he finds Aria, who has been thrown out of Reverie for a crime she didn’t commit. The two form an uneasy partnership that slowly blooms into something more.


From the opening scene, in which Aria hesitantly goes along with a group breaking into a Service Dome, Rossi throws the reader right into her created world. The world-building is beautifully done, revealing necessary information at just the right pace to keep the reader from feeling lost without doing an info-dump. The sheltered (in both senses) society of Reverie and the brutal Outside are drawn with rich detail, while details of what happened to create this world are shared sparingly. The third-person narration alternates perspective between Aria and Peregrine in a natural rhythm, allowing the reader access to important information about each one without requiring Awkward Expository Dialogue.

The romance between Peregrine and Aria develops at a slow burn; there is no Love At First Sight for these two. Instead, these two complex characters bond in the course of a dangerous quest that keeps offering thrilling twists and turns. Rossi balances a strong plot with engaging (if not always likeable) characters with a deft touch.

On shelves January 3, 2012.


Final Word:
Clever sci-fi dystopian romance from a promising new author. Looking forward to the sequel!


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


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Book Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Across the Universe (Across the Universe, #1)Across the Universe by Beth Revis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book Source: Checked out from my public library

Mom wanted me to go first. I think it was because she was afraid that after they were contained and frozen, I’d walk away, return to life rather than consign myself to that cold, clear box.

Seventeen-year-old Amy’s parents are part of a team about to colonize a new world. A new world that is a 300-year voyage away, so the whole family – along with the rest of the science and military experts on the mission – will spend the journey cryogenically frozen. They will be woken by the descendents of the original crew when they arrive, as if no time has passed for them at all. But Amy is awakened 50 years early, and she discovers that life on board the Godspeed has become very strange indeed. The ship’s crew has formed a monoethnic society under the strict control of a leader named Eldest. His successor, Elder, is 16 and wondering if he truly has what it takes to lead. And someone on board is trying to murder the frozen colonists.

The first-person narration is shared by Amy and Elder in alternating chapters. Through Elder, the reader gets an insider perspective on life on-board the ship, which he accepts as normal. Simultaneously, Amy’s horror at the situation is keenly felt. Revis gives readers a lot to think about in this engaging mix of mystery and sci-fi: what makes a good leader? how far should a leader go to protect the people? Highly recommended for ages 14 and up; be prepared for requests for the forthcoming sequel!

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Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium (Delirium, #1)Delirium by Lauren Oliver

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Source: e-ARC via NetGalley, by request

The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it, and when you don’t.

Ninety-five days. That’s how long it will be before Lena turns 18 and has “the procedure”, a sort of brain surgery to prevent Amor deliria nervosa, the disease of love. After that, she will complete her education, be married to a suitable young man, and have however many children the evaluators deem appropriate. In the first few chapters, the reader gets acquainted with Lena and learns that she has plenty of reasons to fear ever falling in love. As in any good dystopian scenario, though, all is not well in this new loveless America, and Lena begins to uncover the truth behind the many lies she has been told.

The idea of love as an eradicable disease, and that its elimination would create a perfectly content society, is an interesting one, but it never really becomes clear how the destruction of the “sickness” became the U.S. government’s number-one priority. The book lacks the solid world-building really needed to support the reader’s suspension of disbelief, but sympathetic characters, suspenseful action scenes, the promise of secrets revealed, and the specter of doomed romance all combine to keep the reader turning pages to the end.

There is a little echo of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in the way the government has taken control of so many facets of people’s lives, especially their relationships, and there is a big echo of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the way a metaphor becomes literal. In Lena’s world, love really does make you crazy. It really might kill you. And it really can save you in the end.

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