Starters, by Lissa Price

In the six years since The Hunger Games hit it big, it feels like I've read a million different versions of the “hellish future” story, featuring everything from zombies to World War III to natural disasters. I usually divide these books into two camps: the profoundly stupid violence-for-violence's-sake stories, and the novels that would have been published even if the world had never heard of Katniss Everdeen.

Lissa Price's Starters, happily, belongs in the latter group. It's set in a future where biological warfare has wiped out everyone but the very young and the very old. Elderly people control all the money and power, while children without grandparents are faced with prison-like orphanages or life on the streets. 16-year-old Callie has been scraping by, but her younger brother's worsening health forces her to accept a job offer from Prime Destinations, an illegal body bank that allows elderly renters to temporarily inhabit young people's bodies. Callie knows Prime Destinations is shady, but she's too desperate to care—at least until she wakes up halfway through a rental period with a malfunctioning chip, only intermittent control over her body, and a murderous voice in her head.

As always, I had complaints. If technology has advanced to the point where people can live to be 250 years old, and scientists can transfer one person's consciousness into another person's body, it's tough to buy the idea that there would be loads of super-rich old people out there both decrepit and desperate enough to steal a child's body. (I mean, what's wrong with a little plastic surgery and a water aerobics class?) Also, none of the book's interpersonal relationships are very engaging—Callie's little brother is like a Dickensian orphan, and her romantic storyline goes nowhere. It eventually gets livened up by some body-swapping stuff, but in a way that actually makes Callie's love interest even less interesting.

But there's some really good stuff here, too. I always enjoy it when science fiction ties into a real, current issue, and Price chooses a thought-provoking one: old people have more power than young people. They vote more, giving their political opinions a disproportionate amount of weight, and they frequently vote in ways that benefit their own age group at the expense of the young. The idea of turning pathologically selfish grandparent-types into horror villains might be far-fetched, but I thought it was impressively creative—and just twisted enough to be funny.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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