Julianna Baggott’s Pure is a Young Adult novel that, from a first appearance, seems like a typical YA dystopian that follows the tropes of the genre. Pure contains a great deal of these tropes but it also distorts them to set the tone of a darker dystopian novel. Some of the twisted tropes of YA dystopias in Pure include: coming of age events that are crucial to the story, teenage rebellion against secretive parents, and the ‘us versus other’ dynamic.
Real life coming of age events have always held great importance in many cultures, and these events get drastic parallels in many YA Dystopian novels; Pure takes this a step further and makes these events even darker than most. In this story the coming of age event is the Wretches having to enlist in the OSR, where they turn teenagers into soldiers, once they turn 16. To make matters worse, these teenagers have to put their lives at stake because enlisting in the OSR also means having to rebel to bring down the Dome. This coming of age ceremony differs greatly from other YA novels because it outright tells the readers that this is a dark cause that they are joining. Furthermore, they are enlisted unwillingly because “when they take people, they tie their hands behind their backs and tape their mouths” (89). In comparison, Delirium by Lauren Oliver has a coming of age event where those of age get an idealized surgery to make their lives better. While there are obviously darker tones behind this surgery, the event is not as blatant as that of Pure. This darker, more blatant coming-of-age ceremony sets the tone for one of the most disturbing Young Adult dystopian settings today.
The tone continues with the novel’s YA tropes involving the characters’ relations with their parents. Either they are an orphan, such as Pressia, or they are defying a parental figure that is withholding information from them. Patridge represents the latter with his father. Patridge first notices his father’s strange behaviour when they are talking about his mother and Partridge thinks “This isn’t the way you think about the dead… This is strange too. He never talks about emotion” (22-23). Patridge’s investigation into his father’s strange behaviour and his conclusions are where the YA trope gets distorted. In order to obtain information on his mother, that his father will not divulge, Patridge goes to the Personal Loss Archive. This place is a storage facility that houses the personal belongings of every dead person dear to the residents of the dome. They resemble safety deposit boxes for dead people, except they are not as safe due to the fact that they are open to the public. Many YA protagonists obtain their information from some kind of records, but Patridges resource is much darker because it is a shrine to the dead. The twisted YA trope is further emphasized when Patridge’s immediate reaction to his discoveries is to run away. He is not running away to a better place, such as Cinder deciding to travel to Europe in Cinder or Katniss contemplating escaping to the woods in Hunger Games, he is running to a destroyed environment full of danger and certain death. In this regard, it is more similar to Lauren escaping her gated community in Parable of the Sower, the difference between the two being that Lauren is forced into the escape and, conversely, Patridge’s flight is well planned out. Patridge is spurred on, by his distrust of his father, to obtain information on his mother in a death shrine. This leads him to leave the safety of his own home and risk the dangers that lie outside the dome: such as a lack of resources, hostile environments, and people called Wretches.
Another typical YA Dystopian trope that Pure twists is the ‘us versus other’ dynamic. The ‘others’ in this case are not just outcasts or people from other lands, but they are physically ‘othered.’ When the detonations exploded anyone who was not safely within the Dome became fused with whatever they were holding. Pressia, for example, has a doll head in place of her hand because she was holding a doll when the explosions hit. This is a much creepier way of physically othering people than in other YA novels such as Cinder by Marissa Meyer, which also features people as physically othered, mainly because there are so many different and grotesque ways in which their fusions can manifest. Some groups are common enough to even be given names such as the Dusts, Groupies, and Beasts. While all of these groups are partly human in a way, they fall on a spectrum of human versus inhuman. The Dusts lean more to the inhuman end of the spectrum because they are fused with land and rocks, and they only drag themselves out of the ground to devour those close by. Groupies, on the other hand, lean more to the human side of the spectrum but are still a disturbing sight because “what used to be maybe seven or eight people [form] one massive body” (105). This novel is also much darker in their physical othering of people because this ‘othering’ is not something that was inherited or chosen by these people, but a reaction to a terrible disaster that happened in their lifetimes. Unlike most YA novels, where the events that created the dystopian world happened in the distant past, this novel focuses on the repercussions of a more recent tragedy. The tone is made even darker when you think that these beings, such as the Dusts, were once people. They were people who were struck with tragedy and did not choose to be turned into these monstrous beings.
In Pure, YA tropes are prominent. There is an event to mark a teenagers coming of age, teens are suspicious of their parents, they rebel, they run away, and there are groups of people who are set apart and defy what is seen as normal. These tropes are twisted into something darker in Pure because of the reality that these characters live in. These characters have witnessed the world destroying event that created their dystopia, and their actions and thoughts are tainted by that trauma. All of these twisted tropes work together to set a creepy tone as well as put a very dark spin on the classical YA Dystopian novel.