Virtual YA Book Club Discussion: Pure by Julianna Baggott

For our recent book club, we read Pure by Julianna Baggot. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect other than I knew it would be a post-apocalyptic YA novel. When I started it, it was pretty scary to me, so much so that I tried not to read it before I went to sleep, but then I got so hooked that I couldn’t stop reading. The only day that I put the book down was the tragic day of the Boston bombings. To me, it was too surreal to read about a world with Detonations when there were actual bombs going off at a marathon. It was too eerily similar.

While Pure was a tough read for me because of the dark places that it goes, I was drawn to the beautiful writing and the intense drama. I just had to know what happened to each character.

Virtual YA Book Club Schedule

In the back of my copy, there are some group discussion questions so I thought it would be fun to use some of them since it has a reading group guide. My copy also had an excerpt for Fuse, which was equally gripping and scary as well.

Here’s our discussion questions:

1) At first, I was scared by the doll’s head on Pressia’s arm, mainly because I’m scared of dolls with blinky eyes (cue the nightmares). But my perception of the doll’s face in her arm changed because of how, at first, she seemed ashamed of it by hiding it with her sleeve and when she admits that she tried to cut it off. In the end, the doll’s face was her ally. What did you think of Pressia’s relationship to her doll’s head? What about Bradwell’s birds? What do you think Baggott was trying to say by creating characters that were fused to animals, objects, and even the earth?

2) In the intro to the reading group guide in the book, Baggott writes, “Pure is dedicated to my daughter. She’s the age of the main character. I read her a very early snippet. She told me that it was the best thing I’d ever written and pushed me to write this novel. I don’t know what struck her exactly. But it resonated. Maybe it’s the idea that everyday life sometimes is polished up to look perfect—Dome-like—but, in truth, it can feel like an ashen wasteland. We all struggle at different times in our lives. Sometimes a post-apocalyptic novel simply feels like the honest emotional truth.” Do you agree?

3) How does Pressia change throughout the book? Compare and contrast Pressia at the beginning versus Pressia at the end.

4) Discuss the relationship between El Capitan and Helmud. Why is El Capitan proud of Helmud when he realizes that Helmud was plotting to kill him?

5) Through various female characters, we get glimpses of the gender roles imposed by this society—the Mothers and their hatred of men, the Dome’s refusal to let boys take art classes because they aren’t “useful,” and Ingership’s wife’s participation in the Feminine Feminists. What do you think of this society’s ideal version of a woman? How does it compare to our world?

6) I was really struck by the relationships in this novel. Lyda and Partridge, Bradwell and Pressia, and eventually Pressia and Partridge. Each relationship sacrificed for the other. To me, it wasn’t the typical teen romance because the world was so atypical, but there was still the same feelings of hope, want, and the desire to care for the other person, even if they weren’t physically close. Which relationship was your favorite?

7) There are so many different worlds happening within Pure from the Dome to where the “wretches” live. I was fascinated by the perception of the past (3-D movies, Mickey Mouse, and a dog in a party hat), playing the I Remember game, and when Pressia goes to Ingership’s house and she tastes oysters for the first time. How does memory play a  role in this world?

Our next YA book is Just One Day by Gayle Forman. Please read it by June 25. Until next time!

14 Comments on “Virtual YA Book Club Discussion: Pure by Julianna Baggott

  1. This book was definitely interesting. I was impressed by the premise and even though some parts were gruesome and uncomfortable, it was a poignant social commentary.

    The fused animals, objects and earth really skeeved me out at first (I felt the same way about the doll!) I have 2 thoughts about what Baggott was saying: 1. society made “things” such a significant part of their lives in the Before, that they actually became apart of them after the Detonation. 2. man’s effect on nature has finally caught up with him so much it becomes apart of him, but in a grotesque way.

    I appreciated the character development through the book. She starts at resigning to hide in a cabinet to being more confrontational and not cowering away from a fight.

    I think El Capitan was proud that Helmud thought about killing him because it was an independent thought he had on his own, separate from El Capitan.

    The relationship between Partirdge and Pressia was my favorite. I loved watching it evolve into something more caring and secure.

    • Thanks for joining us again Angie! Your insights into Pure gave me another angle to view it. I hadn’t thought about objects and things and what they meant to people in the Before. It was interesting to see our world through Pressia’s eyes when she learns about cars with red bows on them, dogs with hats, etc.

      It was a poignant social commentary on many different topics: women, religion, nature, and more. I loved that despite the horrors (of which they are many), there is still hope.

      I like that you pointed out that Pressia at first was hiding in the cabinet and then in the end was fighting for her life.

      Did your book have an excerpt of Fuse? I’m curious what you think will happen next.

      • I barely finished Pure in time for the discussion. I am going to go back and read the Fuse portion today though. I am interested to see where this story is headed.

  2. I’m sorry to have missed reading this choice for the YA Book Club, but I think I will definitely try and read the one scheduled for June. It is nice to know there are other people out there that appreciate what the genre has to offer!

  3. I don’t know whether to finish this book! It’s not something I was considering reading until you added it to our schedule and I’m just over half way and I don’t have strong feelings about it either way! I might push on 🙂

    • I’d love to know what you’re not digging in the book. I personally loved it but I had to push past what I thought was gross.

      And it’s okay not to like it or finish it! We’re not living in the Dome! No demands on finishing it if it’s not your cup of tea.

  4. Pingback: April Reads | Angie Eats Peace

  5. I began this book and was initially put off by its intensity, and especially the descriptions of humans fused with objects. However, once I was able to push past my fear and disgust, I was pulled in by the story and pacing. The concept of memory and of a past that no longer exists is so powerful; I loved the game of “I Remember” and the totem objects that held so much meaning for the characters. Who are we without our memories and without the things that have defined us?

    The author’s comment that life can feel like “an ashen wasteland” seems melodramatic, but dial it down a bit, and I agree that life is frequently harsh and hard. Here in the US, there are so many people who have so little — whether it’s education or opportunities — and many who have way too much. I liked that Pure pushed the concept of the 1% and the 99% to its outer limits. That felt like real life through the prism of fiction.

    I don’t know that I would have read this book without the bookclub, so thanks — I ended up really enjoying it!

    • I’m so glad that you ultimately enjoyed it. Pure is a tough one. There were some parts when I had to put the book down. Mainly when Pressia got the fan in that gift box. It broke my heart.

      I too loved the theme of past and memory. How something as strange as red bows on cars can seem to someone who wasn’t living in the Before.

      The world Baggott creates is so bizarre and scary but there was a lot that echoed of our world.

      Thank you for giving this book a chance.

      Will you continue with the series??? Or is Pure enough?

  6. Hi there,
    So I agree, the “fused” imagery was often pretty disturbing, and I too was wary of reading right before going to sleep, afraid that my brain would hold onto those images while I slept. However, I was compelled enough by the story that I kinda ignored the fear and kept going. (Also, sidenote: Did anyone ever watch the cartoon Earthworm Jim? It was on in the mid 90’s I believe and it was about an evil-battling earthworm in a robot suit. Some of the villains he battled were “fused” creatures, in a way, such as Queen-Slug-for-a-Butt and Professor-Monkey-for-a-Head. I can’t remember why these characters were the way they were, but it was hilarious and disgusting and I couldn’t help but think of this cartoon and laugh about it when I was reading Pure. It kinda helped with the ick factor.)
    Anyway. I thought the story built a little slowly, but the writing was so careful and poetic it held my interest the whole way. I admired the author’s commitment to the grotesque; I wonder if the first draft was even harder to swallow? I also found myself thinking about the Hiroshima bombing and wondering how much of that element of the story was researched and/or based on true events. Some of the small details seemed almost like they could be based on someone’s actual memory.
    I liked Pressia and Partridge’s relationship. I was worried at first that the main romantic story would be Pressia falling for the perfect-looking boy and that Bradwell would get the shaft. Cheers for unpredictability! I am definitely reading the next installment.

    • Thanks for joining us Joanna! I don’t remember that cartoon but it sounds fun. I, too, thought that Pressia, Partridge, and Bradwell would be a love triangle, but I loved that unexpected twist that it didn’t happen. I’m ready for the next book, but after I read something less dark. There were certain parts of the book where I had to put it down. It just freaked me out too much like the grandfather’s fan and when the mom exploded. But I ended up loving the book despite my initial gross out.

  7. Of course i should point out that Fuse is not at my library, so i have a healthy wait in front of me. Also, and i don’t want to diminish a very poignant moment of the book, but i don’t really believe her grandfather is dead. Ok sure, i didn’t think sirius black was dead either, for like a real long time. So this could just be me. But considering the medical and scientific advances if the Dome, i just feel like he could still be alive. And they removed the fan, or even sent her just any old fan, to torture Pressia, to control her. Maybe?

    • I never thought about her grandfather not being dead. But Patridge’s dad is a cruel man. And I feel like Baggott really emphasized the fan a lot so that when Pressia got it as a “gift,” we would be horrified. Just like Sirius Black, I think he’s gone. Sadly.

      Also I should put myself on the hold list for Fuse. Thanks for the reminder!

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