Brenda’s Lesson 3
Pure, a YA Dystopian, by Julianna Baggott
Pressia is lying in the cabinet. This is where she’ll sleep once she turns sixteen in two weeks—the tight press of blackened plywood pinching her shoulders, the muffled air, the stalled motes of ash. She’ll have to be good to survive this—good and quiet and, at night when the OSR patrols the streets, hidden.
She nudges the door open with her elbow, and there sites her grandfather, settled into his chair next to the alley door. The fan lodged in his throat whirs quietly; the small plastic blades spin one way when he draws in a breath and the opposite way when he breathes out. She’s so used to the fan that she’ll go months without really noticing it, then there will be a moment, like this one, when she feels disengaged from her life and everything surprises.
“So, do you think you can sleep in there?” he asks. “Do you like it?
She hates the cabinet, but she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings. “I feel like a comb in a box,” she says. They live in the back-storage room of a burned-out barbershop. It’s a small room with a table, two chairs, two old pallets on the floor, one where her grandfather now sleeps and her old one, and a handmade birdcage hung from a hook on the ceiling. They could come and go through the storage room’s back door, which leads to an alley. During the before, this cabinet held barbershop supplies—boxes of black combs, bottles blue Barbasol, shaving cream canisters, neatly folded hand towels, white smocks that snapped around the neck. She’s pretty sure that she’ll have dreams of being blue Barbasol trapped in a bottle.
Her grandfather starts coughing; the fan spins wildly. His face flushes to a rubied purple. Pressia climbs out of the cabinet., walks quickly to him, and claps him on the back, pounds his ribs. Because of the cough, people have stopped coming around for his services—he was a mortician during the Before and then became known as a flesh-tailor, applying his skills with the dead to the living. Now people think he’s infected.
Slowly, he catches his breath. He nods. “Fine.” He picks up his brick from the floor and rests it on his one stumped leg, just above its seared clot of wires. The brick is his only protection against the OSR. “This sleeping cabinet is the best we’ve got, her grandfather says. “Just give it time.”
This beginning aroused my curiosity, and then my symphony. Why does Pressia need to hide in the cabinet? What is the OSR? And how can her ailing grandfather even hope to protect himself with only a brick? Plus, I’m wondering what grandfather’s job as a flesh-tailor involves, and what caused the Before to end. I’m definitely motivated to read on. Also, I like that Pressia and her grandfather care for each other and that they seem to be in desperate straits even before this OSR shows up. The story also starts at the moment of change, which seems to be the MC’s approaching birthday.