May I present recent release Starters by Lissa Price? You’ll notice that Kami Garcia’s blurb on the cover of this sci-fi debut claims “fans of The Hunger Games will love it.” We see many debuts promising to be the next Hunger Games, but this is one of the few that I believe is a good match for fans of Katniss. (Divergent and Glow are the other two.)
Starters, like The Hunger Games, is one of those novels you can read along the surface for a swift action-packed story. Also, like The Hunger Games, Starters can prompt discussion of our world if you're willing to read a little deeper.
In the near future envisioned by Price, the Spore War has decimated the middle generation of the population—only kids (Starters) and seniors (Enders) have survived, as they’re the two groups of people who are inoculated first. Through a technological process that’s not fully explained—but it’s ok, the how isn’t important—Enders are able to borrow the bodies of Starters to enjoy being young again. (Kind of like Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse—if Dollhouse had been interested in discussing ageism.)
Like in The Hunger Games, the world of Starters is divided into those with immense wealth and those who barely survive. In Starters, an entire class of orphaned kids squat in abandoned buildings. These unclaimed minors are constantly in danger of being rounded up and forced to work. School, showers, and food are all luxuries that none of these kids are guaranteed.
Our protagonist is Callie, a sixteen-year-old Starter, who agrees to rent her body to the Enders via Prime Directions. The lucrative paycheque will enable her to get a home for her and her ill younger brother, who were left orphans after the Spore War.
Except something goes wrong, and Callie wakes up in the house—and life—of the Ender who has rented her body. Suddenly Callie has access to wealth, privilege, and maybe even love. But at what cost? What plans did the Ender have for Callie’s body?
This book, for me, was really about division of wealth. Not just material wealth, as seen in the abundant finances of the majority of the Enders versus the squalor and poverty of the Starters. The Enders also had a wealth of power. But if you think about it, the Starters had the wealth of youth. One of the things I enjoyed the most was how Callie made friends with people regardless of their age; it’s a positive message and something we can carry on into our own lives.
Part techno-thriller and part Cinderella-story, Starters has plenty of plot twists. While it may not have been a perfect book for me, I feel its last few chapters set up its sequel, ENDERS (December 2012), well enough that I’m compelled to read more. Price has a solid grasp on how to build the future and keep a reader turning pages, while staying true to what science fiction does best—talk about the present.