What are you willing to do to save the ones you love?
As a reader, as a human being, it is hard to think of someone coming up with a concept more horrific then sending teens into an arena to fight to their death (think The Hunger Games), and yet Lissa Price has managed to do just that with her novel Starters. Starters has been getting a lot of pre-pub buzz and it turns out is for a good reason: Starters is a thoughtful, thrilling, well-written book that answers the questions “what do I read after The Hunger Games?” This.
First lines: Enders gave me the creeps.
A massive war has ravaged the nation and there are only two kinds of people that remain, the young – Starters – and the very old – Enders. These two groups of people were lucky enough to get a vaccine before deadly chemical weapons were used to annihilate a large portion of the population in the Spore Wars. Unclaimed minors, those with no living adults to care for them, have no legal rights, can not
work, and are forced to squat and steal to survive or they are placed in institutions that make little orphan Annie’s orphanage look quite posh.
Callie is a starter and the only two people she has left are her younger, and quite ill, brother Tyler and a friend named Michael. Callie has heard that there is a program where the Enders rent the bodies of the Starters. For a large sum of money she could let someone use her body, right? This would give them the money they need to find a home, eat for a year, and get medicine for Tyler. But nothing is ever what it seems and it is a good idea to never let nefarious organizations put microchips in your brain. In fact, as a general rule, it is a good idea to basically never let anyone mess with your brain.
It seems simple enough, a chip is placed in your brain allowing the Ender to take over your brain function while their body sleeps in a warehouse. You have to rent your body 3 times and then your contract is done, if you can believe the contract. “It’s as easy as going to sleep.”
But something has gone horribly wrong with Callie’s chip. Her renter has had it altered so that she can achieve her own personal goals, which include murder and a plan to reveal Prime Destinations real plans. As Callie passes in and out of consciousness into her own body, she has moments where she awakens in a room holding a gun and realizes that all is not what it seems and her body is in grave danger. But she is in more danger than she realizes; in fact, all starters are.
This is a world where people are never whom they seem and in any moment you can be betrayed, because the person you met yesterday can now be inhabited by the mind of another. As Callie races to save herself and her brother, she become involved in a much greater struggle: In order to save starters from being kidnapped off of the streets and made to be hosts against their will, she must not only take down a greedy corporation but work to change the views of a society that cares nothing for its poorest and youngest citizens.
Starters has everything that a good thriller is made of and more. Callie is a strong heroine, compassionate and moral in a world that fails to be both. The voices in Callie’s head come and go and it is terrifying to think that she now lives in a world where she will never have complete control over her mind again; she gave up that control for a noble purpose but what will it end up costing her? And the bad guy, The Old Man, is a terrifying individual who wears a holo screen for a face that changes as you speak to him: mummy, dying woman – it changes from horror upon horror. I am enjoying some really well imgained and written bad guys is teen fic these days (check out the bad guy in BZRK by Michael Grant for some additional creepy bad guy action) and Price really rises to the challenge with Starters.
But where Price really excels is in creating a cast of characters both young and old who are struggling to defy social norms and come together to fight the hardest thing in the world there is to fight: power and money. Not everyone is who they seem and not all motives are understood, but there are some good adults who understand evil when they see it and they rise to the occasion to fight it. Adults often take a back seat role in teen fiction but that is not the case here. It would be easy to create a dichotomy of starters good/enders bad but Price doesn’t take the easy way out, she recognizes the complexity of life and thought in us all and creates it in her characters.
Starters is a twisting, unnerving tale. Highly recommended and appropriate for teens of all ages. Teens will be lining up to read it and the sequel, Enders, yet to come.