Pure is a post-apocalyptic world with two opposing sides: the Dome, and outside of the Dome. Does this remind you of say, District One and District 12 of The Hunger Games? It's not exactly like that… but it's from the same genre of literature.
A totalitarian government controls the lives of the people in the Dome, while outside of the Dome is complete anarchy. That's right, no one would want to live in a world like this, making it a perfect example of a dystopia—it's literally the opposite of a perfect utopia. Novels like The Hunger Games, 1984, and Brave New World are examples of dystopias, and Pure fits right in with them.
It's the name that the wretches call the people in the Dome. Next!
Okay, so the title Pure might seem pretty obvious at first, but let's not get carried away here. Throughout the novel, the word "pure," and even the definition of the word "pure," is crucial to our interpretation. For example, Partridge is referred to as "The Pure," when he escapes to the outside of the Dome. But is Partridge really a pure person? Er, no.
Partridge can be extremely frustrating; he couldn't even figure out that the swan wife song was a riddle. (Come on buddy.) He's also exists in a moral gray area: he hates his father, he seeks revenge, and he's impetuous. Just because he has clear skin and is genetically altered, does that make him pure? That's for the reader to decide as she follow's Partridge's story.
This title is also meant to be thought provoking. This novel makes you ruminate on the nature of purity. What is purity, exactly? Are the Pures really pure? And are the hideous wretches outside of the Dome really wretches, or do you think that they might be purer than those who live inside the Dome?
If you're looking for a satisfying ending, pick another book. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a cliffhanger…
Pure is the first book in a trilogy, so you're not going to get a clean ending. In fact, the ending gives us more questions to ponder than we had before the last chapter. It seems like we will have a new character to think about in Illia, and what on earth is Partridge doing standing on that car? And why is something burning? What kind of mess did Partridge get everyone into?
The obvious answer is that the ending scene where Pressia smells smoke is just a lead-in into the next book in the series. But let's not stop there.
The main storyline in this book is that Partridge is looking for his mother, and Pressia is trying to escape the OSR. But this ending makes us pretty sure that Partridge won't be looking for his mother anymore — seeing that she's dead — and Pressia doesn't seem to care about escaping the OSR any longer. For the next book, we're left with the inclination that the group we've been following is going to lead some kind of a rebellion against the Dome. At first they were the prey, but now they're the predators. It's looking like the best defense is a good offense.
The Dome is where all of the "Best and the Brightest" families were escorted to before the Detonations. In the Dome, people ( called "Pures") live a very structured and almost artificial lifestyle. Male children are schooled in the academy, where they are given genetic coding to make them better at sports and school; they're all basically LeBron James and Bill Gates combined.
The very best of these children are then trained to become Special Forces soldiers. But female children aren't given as much liberty as males; they aren't allowed to have coding, and most of their schooling involves the teaching of skills needed to take care of the household.
Inside the Dome, day-to-day life is eerily similar to the lives we lead today; they have sporting events, dances, and kids form cliques and whatnot. But an aura of fear and uncertainty still lingers in the Dome. Sure, everything might seem perfect, but no one is truly unique. They're cut off from the "wretches," and trapped in a corrupt bubble of a civilization.
The outside of the Dome is inhabited by those who survived the Detonations, but were fused to their surroundings. It used to be what was called America (the main character used to live outside of Baltimore)… but no one calls it America anymore. Ash falls from the sky constantly, and people live in a brutal, dog-eat-dog world. See someone who poses a threat to you? Kill 'em.
But for the most part, survivors work together to live and resist the OSR (Operation Sacred Revolution). Still, beasts and immensely disfigured creatures make outside of the Dome an extremely deadly place. Even the place names are terrifying: the Deadlands, and the Meltlands are both places that we would never book a vacation to.
The novel is pretty straightforward (despite the warped world it inhabits) and the characters all speak like humans, rather than Shakespearean fools.
But—and this is a big "but" and we cannot lie—the beginning of the novel can be tough to understand. We need to learn a whole slew of terms like the Detonations, the Dome, the Message, Groupies, and Dusts. It's not rocket science though—it's more like the flashcards you make for French 1. Just make your way through the opening, and pretty soon you'll be immersed in their world's language.
A guy in the book has dang wings stuck in his back—wings are hardly a secret symbol in the world of Pure. But what could all these wings possibly mean?
Well, inside the Dome there are no birds. In fact, the mental hospitals install fake windows with fake birds flying around in order to make their patients feel calmer. And it's not just that bird watching is a relaxing activity. Birds are a fairly universal symbol of freedom.
And, lo and behold: wings are a symbol of hope and freedom in Pure. Wings allow you to fly; they allow you to see everything from up above; they allow you to ascend and even transcend. In the Dome, there is no hope to transcend or become anything better. Any kind of hope is artificial inside the Dome, manufactured by the government and the genetic coding.
Remember when Lyda finally stepped outside the Dome?
And there, before her, is a gust of wind, dirt, sky—and something cutting across that sky. A real bird. (44.39)
Outside the Dome, there are wild beasts with wings, butterflies, mechanical cicadas, and even a boy with birds in his back. The hope that springs from wings is that one day the wretches will ascend and overcome the Dome.
Lyda had no hope or freedom inside the Dome, but now that she exits, she finally sees a real bird fluttering in the sky. This is the first time Lyda is granted the ability to actually feel a sense of freedom… or at least the possibility of freedom.
Ever gotten a bad birthday gift from a relative? It's incredibly awkward. You need to pretend you like it (Thanks for the slipper socks, Grandma!), and then you need to use it (Look at this picture of me in my slipper socks, Grandma!), and then you need to find a way to get rid of it without them knowing (My slipper socks? They, um, wore out).
It's a whole ordeal. Well, gifts come up every so often in Pure, and they're not always as great as the Rock'Em Sock'Em Robotswe all wanted as kids. But they're all incredibly important.
The first gift we encounter is the pair of clogs that Pressia's grandfather gives her for her sixteenth birthday. Not only is it ironic that her grandfather is celebrating her sixteenth birthday (the birthday all kids outside the Dome dread), but that she actually uses his gift to save Partridge later on in the story. But when she puts the clogs on:
She doesn't want to be taller. She wants to be small and young. Her grandfather is replacing her old shoes with new ones that seem like they'd never wear out. Does he think they're coming for her soon? Does he think she'll run away in these shoes? (9.28)
Ugh, they're ugly. They make her look ugly. But hey, they might be essential to her survival—thanks, Grandpa! And what about the gift Bradwell gives her?
It's a clipping—the one that she found in Bradwell's footlocker and loved, the one of people wearing glasses with colored lenses in movie theaters […] Is this just some kind of cruel gift? Is he making fun of her? (9.41)
Even though she thinks the gift is a nasty joke, this is actually the first token of Bradwell's love for Pressia—it's a major point of foreshadowing.
Gifts are all over the place; the pen that Ellery gives Partridge, the pin Partridge has to sacrifice, the bell. And trust us, they'll show again—and be uber-important—no matter what. If someone's giving a gift, that's a signpost for the reader that says: Hey, this thing is gonna show up again. So pay attention.
It's not everyday that you see a girl walking around with a doll instead of a hand. In fact, it's something you see approximately never.
But Pressia's doll hand isn't just bizarre. It's also loaded with significance. Mainly, it's her permanent scar from the past. We find out that she once tried to cut her doll hand off, but it started to bleed profusely… so she stopped. She can't erase her past, just as Bradwell explains:
"We have to remember what we don't want to," he tells them. (5.27)
Our Good Mother even echoes Bradwell's opinion later on:
"Our stories are what we have," Our Good Mother says. "Our stories preserve us. We give them to one another. Our stories have value. Do you understand?" (37.19).
It takes Pressia a while to understand how she should be proud of her doll hand and not despise it for its ugliness, but Our Good Mother and Bradwell help instill that idea in her. The doll hand isn't just any fusing: it's a scar. And scars, even though they can be ugly, have a beautiful intrinsic value. They remind us of who we are; they remind us of where we've been and what we've seen. By hiding her doll hand, Pressia is hiding her true identity, but by embracing its intrinsic beauty, Pressia can find a newfound strength.
Okay, so most of times we encounter singing in Pure it's melancholy, suggesting that singing is used as some sort of coping mechanism or excretion of grief. It's not like Pharrell's song… but's it is important. There are two main scenes where there is singing involved. The first one is with the old woman singing in her house:
Finally, the old woman lifts her head and says, "He broke her heart." And then she closes her eyes and starts singing loudly—shrill, anguished notes, as if she's trying to drown out everything around her. (19.101)
And the second one is when Pressia sings at the very end of the book:
Pressia's voice doesn't surprise Partridge. It's as if he's been waiting to hear it for many years. It lilts with sadness, and it takes Partridge a moment to place the tune. (59.106)
Whether it's happy or sad, singing is a way we can release our emotions. For the old woman, her singing (more like screaming) was used to block out the cruel world around her. But for Pressia, her singing is a kind of cathartic release. All of her pent up sadness and suffering is bunched up into the sweet lullaby. Even a melancholy tune can have an uplifting mood, and Pressia sings from her heart to free the sorrow back into the world.
Pure is ultimately told through a third person (omniscient) lens; however, it's not your everyday narrative technique. Pure has four different characters which the novel focuses on: Pressia, Partridge, Lyda, and El Capitan. The POV rotates between these characters, and we get a sense of each of their unique worlds.
But the characters in Pure don't use "I." Instead, a third person narrator is able to dive into their mind and give the reader the pleasure of knowing their thoughts and feelings. Here's an example of what we're talking about:
Partridge feels guilty before Lyda walks off, but he's relieved once she has. It's part of his plan. (8.1)
Hooray, rotating omniscience. This narrative technique lets us get close to the beating heart and inner thoughts of the characters we like—and relate to—best.