In the Dystopian YA landscape, other than The Hunger Games trilogy, there is little that is innovative. As with every “the next big thing” there is little that equals the original. Lissa Price’s Starters is one of the rare exceptions. Price has come up with an original premise full of psychological terror and, as the book progresses, physical danger to the protagonist, as well.
In Price’s future there are the young and the old. The rest of the population has been annihilated by a genocide spore war. Only the young and the elderly were vaccinated. Only they survived. The elderly (some who are as old as 200) crave youth. The young, many who are homeless and live as scavengers, desire a stable home life. Prime Destinations offers the young both wealth and stability they desire. Teens can “rent” their bodies to the elderly (referred to as Enders) for more money than they might see in their lifetime.
Callie, a sixteen year old, is desperate for food and medicine for her sickly younger brother Tyler. She rents her body at Prime Destinations and the ride begins. The chip implanted in Callie’s head to manage the transfer malfunctions and she awakens in the midst of a rental in her own body with the voice of her renter, Helena, urging her to commit a heinous crime.
As the tale unfolds we learn that Prime Destinations has more grandiose and diabolical plans than simply renting bodies to Enders. Callie must expose Prime Destinations while also locating her brother who, she believes, has been kidnapped by the nefarious corporation.
Starters is crisply written and a quick read, full of twists and turns that continue to the very end, setting up the second and final book in the series.
Starters suffers from its one-dimensional heroine. Callie is beautiful, smart, heroic and willing to sacrifice herself for her brother, regardless of the consequences. Simply put she has no flaws. The best characters, whether in a YA or an adult novel, have layers and flaws that make them far more interesting than Callie. Helena, the Ender who initially inhabits Callie’s body, is a far more interesting character because she is more human.
As in far too many Dystopian novels amidst the horror that drives the plot romance blossoms. In this case Callie falls for Blake, the great-grandson of a Senator. The problem is the romance is too sudden. Callie meets Blake and within days is smitten. Even at the book’s conclusion when Callie learns Blake isn’t really who she thinks he is when he reaches for her hand she relents. Maybe Callie does have a flaw—she’s superficial.
All in all Starters is a satisfying read and Price has set up any number of conflicts to be resolved in the sequel.
(3 ½ out of 5 stars)