Your body. Rented out. Used to murder.

Today’s review: Starters

Author: Lissa Price

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Cover of Starters by Lissa Price

Released: 2012
Number of pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult/ Dystopia/ Sci-fi/ Thriller
Series: Starters series (book 1)

HER WORLD IS CHANGED FOREVER

Callie lost her parents when the Spore Wars wiped out everyone between the ages of twenty and sixty. She and her little brother, Tyler, go on the run, living as squatters with their friend Michael and fighting off renegades who would kill them for a cookie. Callie’s only hope is Prime Destinations, a disturbing place in Beverly Hills run by a mysterious figure known as the Old Man.

He hires teens to rent their bodies to Enders—seniors who want to be young again. Callie, desperate for the money that will keep her, Tyler, and Michael alive, agrees to be a donor. But the neurochip they place in Callie’s head malfunctions and she wakes up in the life of her renter, living in her mansion, driving her cars, and going out with a senator’s grandson. It feels almost like a fairy tale, until Callie discovers that her renter intends to do more than party—and that Prime Destinations’ plans are more evil than Callie could ever have imagined…

-Goodreads.com

Callie is young, orphaned, and desperate. Her younger brother Tyler is gravely ill, and Callie risks her life every day to keep them safe. A few years previously, a global Spore War eradicated the population of the world aged between twenty and sixty- only the adolescents and elderly who were immunized against the attacks first were spared. Since then, the elderly population, known as Enders, have assumed authority over those who remain and the adolescent population, known as Starters, are left to fend for themselves. Some fortunate Starters are able to live in the luxury provided by their surviving grandparents. Callie is not one of these. Instead, she and Tyler are forced to squat in abandoned buildings, fighting off renegades and running from the police in order to survive.

Callie has heard tell of an underground organisation called Prime Destinations that lets Starters rent out their bodies to Enders who are willing to pay volumes of money for the chance to feel young again. To do this, a neurochip is placed in the brains of each the Starter and the Ender, connecting their thoughts and allowing the Ender to inhabit the mind of the Starter for a period of time- be it hours or months. Desperate for the money to help improve her and her brother’s lives, Callie decides to go through with the operation and donate her body. At first, everything goes well; Callie is fed, given a proper place to sleep, and the employees at Prime Destinations give her a full body makeover in order for her to fit into the glamorous lifestyle of her renter. Then, during her third rental, Callie wakes up in the middle of her renter’s life. Callie is forced to improvise, masquerading as her renter and trying to find out what the hell is going on and why other renters are telling her ‘not to go through’ with something. As Callie bluffs her way through her renter’s life, she uncovers a disturbing secret and soon finds herself on the run from both Prime Destinations and the Ender police with huge gaps in her memory and the constant fear of once again losing control of her mind.

I was recommended this book by a friend and my god, I am so glad I read this (also, the cover is beauuuuuuuuutiful!). This book was a proper edge-of-your-seat, reading-until-three-in-the-morning-every-night kind of book and I relished every minute of it. The story was fast-paced, edgy and incredibly entertaining, and it touched on some really disturbing issues. The whole concept of these teenagers renting their bodies out to be used by old people for money was a really unsettling notion and, as the story explains, one that would lead to dire consequences. Admittedly, I did find the story a bit hard to follow at first. The story doesn’t go into much detail of the events prior to the present, and all we know is that a Spore War wiped out all of Earth’s middle-aged population and all those left were adolescents and pensioners who were immunised against the attacks first. It doesn’t specify the year in which the book is set either, but it can be deduced as in the near future, as technology is advanced somewhat (with hologram projectors replacing TVs, MagLites substituting as watches/alarm clocks/photo albums/torches, and DogBots apparently being a popular kind of toy). I would have found a bit more history about the Spore War to be helpful, and some of the new-age slang (such as referring to people as Starters or Enders or renegades) was a bit hard to follow in the beginning, and there were some moments wherein I found myself thinking, “what is going on?” This didn’t matter too much once the plot got underway though, because focussing on the present events proved to be more entertaining as the story picked up pace.

I really liked Callie as the protagonist of this novel. She was courageous, headstrong, incredibly smart and deeply caring. Her relationship with her younger brother Tyler was very sweet and quite believable, and her seeing him as her first priority for everything she did really emphasised their strong sibling bond. During the story however, Callie finds herself in a relationship with Blake, the grandson of an influential senator, and no matter what passed between them over the course of the novel, I just couldn’t find their relationship believable. There was no feeling involved and it felt forced and unnecessary, and really, I would have rather known more about Callie and Tyler’s past than read about her Blake woes.
I found myself quickly falling in love with the book’s minor characters such as Madison, another Elder renter, and I was captivated and entertained by her charm and her efforts to try and fit in with normal teenage society. Every so often, she would let a few words slip that reminded the reader that she was, in fact, an old lady in a young body, which was a rather amusing notion. I did, however, have issues with the convenience of some of the character traits. Some of the characters that Callie meets just happen to have certain skills, or just happen to know specific information, or just happen to be in the right place at the right time and all of these aspects just happen to be vital to the plot. I don’t know, sometimes it felt a bit too convenient to be realistic.

Lissa Price brings a whole new concept to the dystopian YA genre and presents a fresh, unexplored world to dive into. Its conceivable protagonist and twisty, intriguing plot make for a fast-moving, utterly entertaining story from start to finish. Aside from a few issues with the relationships and interactions between characters, Starters is well written, thought-provoking and completely compelling. I would definitely recommend this for fans of the dystopian and sci-fi genres, and for Young Adult readers in general. This story really presents something new and original, and I will definitely be reading the sequel to this book, Enders.

Rating- 8.5/10

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Imagine what she could do with 100%

Today’s review: Lucy
Rating certificate: MA 15+ (Australia), R (USA), 15 (UK)
Director: Luc Besson

Movie poster for Lucy

Released: July 31, 2014 (Aus)

After being tricked into becoming a drug mule in place of her boyfriend, 25-year-old Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is forced to face her captors, who have surgically placed a bag of drugs in her stomach to be carted overseas for reception in various countries. Lucy is assaulted by her detainers and the bag breaks, the contents spilling out and entering her bloodstream. As it turns out, the drug, CPH4, was synthesised to provide its users with the ability to enhance their brain capacity for a period of time and was only intended to be taken in very small, carefully measured doses. And Lucy now has a whole bag of the stuff coursing through her veins. Lucy succumbs to the overwhelming power of the drug and her body begins to react violently, twisting and writhing, her veins burning blue. She takes on a super-enhanced strength. Her mind becomes sharper. She can feel her whole body; the blood and drugs coursing through her veins, each particle of air in the breaths she takes, the very weight of her skin. She uses her new-found super strength to escape from her captors and heads for the nearest hospital and, she hopes, answers to the problem she now faces.

The longer the drugs are in her system, the capacity of her brain that she can consciously utilise increases and she begins to unlock knowledge about the brain and the universe around her that no human has ever been able to before. Lucy’s escape has triggered a manhunt for her organised by the drug traders that captured her and she spends her days on the run, searching for answers about her condition and slowly losing control of her own body. Lucy tracks down Professor Samuel Norman, a neurologist conducting his own research into the capacity of the human brain. Norman reveals to her that the CPH4 has enabled her to exceed the 10% capacity use of normal humans and the capacity available to her is increasing every day. Lucy and Norman must find out how to contain or harness her power before she is captured or before the power of her own mind kills her.

I was so glad to have seen this movie. The issue discussed, what would happen if a human was able to use 100% of their brain power, was a question that has been pressing on my own mind for a while, and I was happy to see a movie that explored this question. Director Luc Besson presents just one of many possible theories as to the outcome of achieving full mental capacity, and he maintains an almost reasonable approach to the concept throughout the movie. There are, of course, many holes in the story and so much left unanswered and unexplained, but for a 90 minute action movie, it’s a commendable effort. Besson approached the subject rather tentatively and it seemed as though he was very aware that to become too in-depth with the concept of the movie would result in a product that would be both messy and unsatisfying, so in this case, simplicity was key.

The cinematography and visual effects of this movie were just AMAZINGGGG!!! With her enhanced mind power, Lucy is able to see each individual strand of DNA within each person, can visualise the electrical currents produced by every phone, computer and tv, and she can travel to the furthest reaches of time and space within her mind. The effects used to bring these aspects to life were absolutely stunning, and I was completely mesmerized during the scene wherein Lucy ‘travels’ across the universe. I have a thing for spacey-wacey things…

Scarlett Johansson was incredible as Lucy, and her portrayal of the altering of Lucy’s personality as a consequence of absorbing the CPH4 was pristine. You really became captivated by her acting, and it really made me love and respect her even more as an actress. To play such a difficult role wherein background research on her character would be minimal (due to, y’know, the lack of people being able to use more than 10% of her brain), so Johansson’s efforts are to be praised.

It is important to keep in mind before seeing this film that the issues it addresses are very grey, and with the information on the brain currently available to us, there is only so much we can explore by means of enhancement and only so far we can take it. As a result, I don’t believe Besson meant for this movie to be taken too seriously or in a literal sense. Even if it doesn’t present groundbreaking theories or provoke heated debate, it can still be enjoyed as a great action/thriller with a kick-ass main character and a load of stunning visuals.

Rating- 7/10