Author: Lissa Price
Genre: Dystopian, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 2012
Hardcover: 368 Pages
HER WORLD IS CHANGED FOREVER
Callie lost her parents when the Spore Wars wiped out everyone between the ages of twenty and sixty. She and her little brother, Tyler, go on the run, living as squatters with their friend Michael and fighting off renegades who would kill them for a cookie. Callie’s only hope is Prime Destinations, a disturbing place in Beverly Hills run by a mysterious figure known as the Old Man.
He hires teens to rent their bodies to Enders—seniors who want to be young again. Callie, desperate for the money that will keep her, Tyler, and Michael alive, agrees to be a donor. But the neurochip they place in Callie’s head malfunctions and she wakes up in the life of her renter, living in her mansion, driving her cars, and going out with a senator’s grandson. It feels almost like a fairy tale, until Callie discovers that her renter intends to do more than party—and that Prime Destinations’ plans are more evil than Callie could ever have imagined. . .
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Starters duology (I think it’s a duology – there are three short ebooks in the Starters universe, but I’ve only seen 2 planned full length books)
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Why did I read this book: I first heard about Starters at NY Comic Con this past year, and immediately was drawn to the premise of the novel (not the cover, which, to me, is incredibly tacky) – in a world where everyone is either very old or very young, how would society change? I was thrilled when I saw this title available on NetGalley and of course scooped up a copy as soon as possible.
Callie Woodland is at sixteen years old an orphan, homeless, penniless, and responsible for the care and upbringing of her seven year old brother, Tyler. Only a year earlier, the War escalated and culminated with the release of a deadly weaponized spore that wiped out anyone not immunized – everyone except the very young and the very old. Both Callie and Tyler are “Starters” – minors that were lucky enough to receive the rare vaccine before the spore warheads were deployed. The only others to receive the vaccine are known as “Enders” – the extremely elderly. Everyone in between, from twenty to seventy, were killed in the aftermath of the devastating biological spore warhead deployment. In a world dichotomized between the disenfranchised Starters and the wealthy Enders (who, thanks to miracles of medical science now have the ability to live far into their hundreds), Callie and Tyler are marginalized and utterly without rights or a means to survive. Work is illegal for anyone under the age of nineteen, and without legal guardians, Callie and her generation are surplus members of society, liable to be thrown into asylums (essentially a death sentence).
With nowhere else to turn, Callie decides to take a chance on a place she’s only heard of whispered by other Starters: Prime Destinations. Or, in the Starter vernacular, the Body Bank. Prime Destinations promises its young recruits a free makeover, impossible beauty, and lavish wealth – and all it costs teens are a few days of their lives, while Enders rent out their young, beautiful bodies. Callie’s hesitant to sign her rights away to her body for any period of time, but with Tyler getting sicker and more malnourished each day, her choice is simple. The first two test runs are easy enough for Callie to handle, taking only a day and then a week of her life. During her third rental, a full month of sleep while an Ender uses her body, Callie comes to not in the quiet sanctuary of Prime Destinations corporate headquarters, but in a boisterous night club. Something has gone wrong with her rental and Callie is awake and in control of her body with a mystery to solve and only a distant voice in her head that must be coming from the Ender that rented her body. What has happened to her renter? Why is she awake? And why is her renter so dead set on keeping Callie away from Prime Destinations?
If Callie is to provide for her younger brother and to survive the next few weeks, she must uncover the truth behind her mysterious renter and Prime Destinations.
I’m torn when it comes to this review. On the one hand, I know objectively that Starters has a significant number of flaws in terms of worldbuilding and depth – but on the other, I zipped through this story, conscious of the flaws yet thoroughly enjoying myself all the while. I love the premise of the novel, with its stark dichotomization of society. Only the extremely aged and the extremely young remain, and in such a world, wouldn’t the old do everything to hold onto their last vestiges of power? The sheer hate that so many Enders feel for the youths that they both envy and despise is a palpable thing, and I love this tension that characterizes so much of the novel. The laws that are enacted, the outright hostility and oppression of the young makes sense from the perspective of the Enders in power. I also love the conceit of Prime Destinations and the logic of “renting” young, able bodies to the rich and old.
But then…on deeper reflection, there are many aspects of the book that simply do not stack up. The premise of the novel with its dramatic war and spore-induced genocide is undeniably interesting, but why would there be a vaccine that could cure the young and incredibly old, but at the same time have some shortage that prevents anyone from 20 years old and upward from receiving it? Wouldn’t there be anyone – young tycoons, celebrities, athletes, high-level politicos, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople – between the ages of 20 to 60ish able to bribe their way into receiving this vital medication? Especially considering that people knew that the spore warhead was coming (hence the availability of the vaccine to those who most desperately needed it)? Furthermore, if people can live so long past the age of 150, why would they be considered frail members of society that get first dibs on a rare vaccine?! There are so many unanswered questions, not just with the premise of the war, but the technology. At first, we don’t really know what Prime Destinations does to its youthful body donors and we’re given the impression that Callie goes through a super scrubbing bath that leaves her glowing and beautiful – we later learn (sort of hobbled together) that donor Starters are subject to intense plastic surgery techniques that lead to their perfect appearances (of course, Callie doesn’t need any of that crazy surgery because she’s apparently gorgeous underneath the grime of street life).
There are other strange choices with regards to the world that don’t quite add up – the division between “friendlies” and “rebels” (friendlies being starters that are…friendly. Versus rebel Starters that are predictably TATTOOED! And PIERCED! And like BREAKING THINGS AND CAUSING CHAOS!), for example, feels contrived and half-baked. There’s a really bizarre Cinderella vibe going throughout the story, too (down to the prince charming and lost glass slipper), that feels utterly incongruous with the rest of the plot.
On the character front, Callie’s narration is superficially simplistic, and there’s a strange rationale for all of her decisions that doesn’t quite add up – she’s incredibly concerned for her brother Tyler, but she decides that instead of going back to Prime Destinations when she awakens in her body during the rental period, it’s totally cool to go on a date (make that multiple dates) with a hot dude. Really? There’s the introduction of a character in an aslyum who is literally a lamb for slaughter (and you can tell this as soon as you first meet said redshirt character). There’s an obligatory romance, but with a huge hulkingly crazy twist by the end of the book. In short, things in Starters get really, really weird.
And yet…for these criticisms, there is something undeniably, page-turningly fun about Lissa Price’s debut novel. I love the idea of Prime Destinations and the creepy ulterior motives of the corporation. I love the faceless villain of The Old Man. I love how quickly the story moves and how it is so utterly action-packed. I like the adventure, and the improbably cheesy combination of Beverly Hills 90210 meets Dollhouse. Hell, I even loved the insanely ridiculous twist at the end of the book! And you know what?
Though it might be superficial, though there are plot holes and unresolved questions you could drive an army of tanks through, the book kind of works by virtue of its blasé confidence and fast pacing. Starters is like that CW show or insane Nicholas Cage film that you know you probably SHOULDN’T like as much as you do…but you do.
And I do. I’m not ashamed to say it. I’ll be back for Enders.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
Enders gave me the creeps. The doorman flashed a practiced smile as he let me into the body bank. He wasn’t that old, maybe 110, but he still made me shudder. Like most Enders, he sported silver hair, some phony badge of honor of his age. Inside, the ultramodern space with its high ceilings dwarfed me. I walked through the lobby as if gliding through a dream, my feet barely touching the marble floor.
He directed me to the receptionist, who had white hair and matte red lipstick that transferred to her front teeth when she smiled. They had to be nice to me there, in the body
bank. But if they saw me on the street, I’d be invisible. Forget that I had been top of my class—back when there was school. I was sixteen. A baby to them.
Rating: 6 – Good
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