July 20, 2012

Review: Starters by Lissa Price

Starters by Lissa Price
Published: 2012, Delacorte Press
Series: Starters and Enders, #1
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian Fantasy
Source: Library book

“You’re robbing them of the most precious thing – their lives.” I looked around and spotted my overnight bag against the wall.

“When you put it that way…it sounds like kidnapping.”

“It’s worse than that.” I picked up my bag. “It’s murder.” 

A year ago, the Spore Wars killed off all adults between the ages of twenty to sixty in the United States. Although a vaccination saved the lives of the children and the elderly, there was not enough to provide to all members of society. This left a lot of children without family or homes, and they're forced to live on the streets where they're treated as squatters and second-class citizens but unable to get work, vote, or do anything to better their situations. This is life for Callie, her little brother Tyler, and her friend Michael. They live day-to-day, until Callie hears of a company called Prime Destinations, which offers teenagers the chance to earn money by renting out control of their bodies to nostalgic Enders who wish to recreate their youth. Three short-term rentals for a large sum of money. For Callie, whose brother is suffering from a lung disease, the opportunity offered by Prime Destinations is simply too good to ignore.

In Starters, readers are introduced to a dystopian world at its worst. In basically every society, children are considered to be the most valuable resource. They're the face of the future, after all. But for some inexplicable reason that's not the case in Lissa Price's Starters. In the story's world, children (or "Starters," signifying those at the beginning of their lives) are mistrusted by all the Enders (adults over sixty) left alive. Why? I was incredibly frustrated that this was never explained in the book. I can understand how homeless children reflect societal problems and are seen as an added nuisance in this troubled time, but through Callie's narration it is clear that the adults barely tolerate even those children who are able to live with relatives. I just couldn't wrap my head around this mentality.

I enjoyed reading the story from Callie's perspective for the most part. She's determined and loyal. I'm hesitant to call her naive or stupid, but perhaps she is a little reckless, at least in terms of her relationships with others. The romantic relationship that Callie forms with Blake during the course of the novel bothered me quite a bit. It was far too much of an insta-love for me. And Callie puts her trust in him far too easily and quickly. And, for that matter, how Callie approaches both other renters (Enders currently occupying Starter bodies) and other Starters doesn't always make sense to me. She does try to go about it cautiously when she can, but Callie eventually starts revealing important bits of information about herself and others to find out more. I also was bothered my Callie's constant comparisons to her situation being like Cinderella's. Maybe there were some similarities, but really. Both Price and Callie needed to give Callie some credit that she could be an established character in her own right without having to reference an older tale.

Along with Callie, I really liked getting to know more about Helena, the Ender renting out Callie's body. Helena is the most fascinating character to me — an Ender who actually brings out the human side of Enders. Because really there was no way I was about to believe that every single Ender is a horrible person who wants the future generation to be oppressed or dead. Just no. I liked the relationship that forms between Helena and Callie. It is just great.

As I started reading, I found that I had a lot of questions with regard to worldbuilding and the continuity of the world, and unfortunately those questions only continued to build as I read the book. This became problematic as I felt like I had more questions than answers. I understand that this takes place in an unspecified future where adults can prolong their lives. But it sounded like most of the claimed children lived with grandparents and great-grandparents well into their hundreds. It felt like too much of a generational gap for me, and it wasn't explained if there was any reasoning behind it. I also don't understand how the government ignored the blatant issue that thousands of children had nowhere to go and put off any legislation to help them for over a year. Callie does explain that there are some state homes, but they sound horrible and this all just goes back to my argument that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for me that the children are treated so horribly by the Enders. I know that there's a short story that is supposed to act as an introduction to the series. But, honestly, why couldn't the worldbuilding that I assume is present in the companion short story simply have been used in the actual first book in the series?

Starters presents an interesting dystopian world where for some reason children seem to be of little value. The premise is interesting, but the worldbuilding left a lot to be desired. I will probably read Enders simply to see what happens next. There is an incredible twist at the end. I had absolutely no idea that it was coming. It's everything I ever want in a twist — thought-provoking, surprising, and yet at the same time it kind of makes sense if you step back and think about it. That twist really got to me and makes me curious to see how it will be resolved.
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.

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