Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Review: Starters by Lissa Price Has Old People Who Run Like Fast Zombies and Teenage Body Banks. Whoa.

Starters by Lissa Price is a weird book.
Remember the fast zombies in 28 Days Later? 
No? You were too busy admiring Cillian Murphy? Me, too.
Ok, so replace "fast zombies" with "fast scary old people." 
Then add the words "body bank," "rental," and "assassination."
Now you understand the premise.

Callie Woodland is living in a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Less than two years ago, germ warfare wiped out everyone in America between the ages of 20 and 60. In the blink of an eye, she and her brother Tyler became orphans and squatters, fighting for survival in an abandoned building where kids, also known as Starters, will literally kill each other for a cookie. 

Meanwhile, old people, aka Enders, are villains who violently round up children and force them to live in awful institutions and do the manual labor that keeps their society running. Why do old people become monsters the moment all the kids lose their parents? Beats me. That's one of the major problems with this story. It just doesn't make sense for geriatric folks to suddenly turn on young people.

In Callie's world, it's illegal for kids to work. But Callie's brother has a wasting disease, and the only way she can get enough money to care for him is to rent her body to an illegal company called Prime Destinations. At Prime Destinations, old people have their consciousness temporarily implanted in young bodies so they can ski, swim, horseback ride, and do all the other healthy, wholesome things that women do in commercials for feminine hygiene products. Okay, I'm kidding, but it's pretty weird. Presumably, it's all very PG. *cough* Yeah, right. *cough* 

Here's my question: If old people can run fast enough to chase down teenagers and work as carhops on roller skates (No, I didn't make that up), why do they need to rent young bodies to do this stuff? That's another major problem with this book.

Callie gets a makeover, has a creepy implant put into her head, and then she's ready for rental. Three rentals will give her enough money to buy medicine and maybe even a home for her and Tyler. Callie's first two rentals go smoothly, but she regains consciousness during her last rental. Callie pretends to be an old woman in a young body, because she's afraid Prime Destinations won't pay her if they know her rental has gone awry.

Once Callie gets her bearings, she learns that she's being rented by a wealthy old woman named Helena. Callie drives Helena's jaw-droppingly expensive cars, sleeps in Helena's luxurious Beverly Hills mansion... and finds Helena's gun. Helena intends to use Callie's body to murder a Senator! But as Callie learns more, we learn that Helena might not be the villain: Prime Destinations is more evil than Callie ever suspected, and the murder Helena planned could bring them down. Meanwhile, Callie is falling for her target's grandson, Blake. Drama? Drama!

My expectations for this book were low, but the world building is surprisingly good. Lissa Price creates a complete dystopian culture with its own lexicon and social conventions. I quickly became immersed in it, and it's always a good feeling to tumble head over feet into a book. And there are some surprising twists at the end. YA lit rarely surprises me, so good job on that!

Unfortunately, though, Starters is an action movie put on paper. Readers tend to either love or hate that sort of pacing, and I fall into the latter group. I prefer more introspection. A deep look at the ethics of body rental or extensive deliberation about Helena's plan would've pleased me more.

But if you liked the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and you enjoy dystopias more than vampires, you'll probably like Starters and its sequels. The action doesn't stop, and as long as you don't think about it, it's a heck of a lot of fun.  The moment you actually think about it, it all unravels. Just don't think about it, okay?

Now let's all look at a picture of Cillian Murphy looking gorgeous, shall we?
Oh yes. We shall! Hellooooo, cheekbones!

After spending too much time in YA lit land, I've finally finished the last of the YA books on my nightstand and returned to the world of Books for Grown Folks. If you're tired of YA reviews... Yeah, me too! I'm currently reading Beauty by Sherri S. Tepper. Do you have any recommendations for my next book after that?


  1. Wow, this sounds like a really crazy-intense story. It sounds sad, but also kind of exciting. A page turner, no?

    I don't put aside a lot of time for reading, but when I do (hopefully summer?) I may have to give this one a shot. Thanks for the review.

    I most recently read "Eat, Pray, Love", Mindy Kaling's "Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me?" and I'm very slowly getting through "Extra Virginity", which is about the horrible corruption in the olive oil industry. All very different, but also recommended!

    1. Hi, Amber! I'm glad you found me here. It was exciting for sure, but weird. People seemed to be doing bad things for no good reason, and it didn't make a lot of sense.

      It sounds like you're a nonfiction kind of girl! I need to read more nonfiction. Eat Pray Love was wonderful. I was afraid it would be cheesy, but I really liked it, especially the chapters that took place in India. I loved the feeling of getting outside myself and seeing the world through someone else's eyes.

  2. Jen! How about A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and let's have a book discussion! It's decidedly grown up fiction about a real dystopia - post war Chechnya. It is full of adult characters thinking and feeling about their surroundings. It also made me cry like 15 times while reading it. It's so good.

    1. Steph! That sounds good. Ringing endorsements that include the words "It made me cry like 15 times," work for me. If it wasn't well-written, it couldn't make you cry. Sold.

  3. hmm, i'm torn. i love the idea of this book, but i did NOT like the sookie books becuase it all moved too fast.

    1. Same here! Sookie never reacted to anything, so it was really hard for me to care what happened to her. SO MANY people recommended them to me, so I read the first three books, hoping it would get better. It never did.

      I'm not aware of any other good cyberpunk YA dystopias quite like this, though. Are you?


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