Teens for Rent...Welcome to Dystopian Los Angeles

When I first heard about the young adult novel Starters in a radio interview of its author Lissa Price, my attention was immediately caught by the premise of teens renting out their bodies to seniors in order to survive.  I finally had the chance to pick up Starters this month and thoroughly enjoyed this quick and exciting read!

Callie is a smart sixteen year-old living in a futuristic Los Angeles, part of a world consisting only of people under age 20 or over age 60.  Everyone in the age span in between has died as a result of the Spore Wars, the vaccine for the fatal spore illness having been reserved for the young and the old.  Those adults who did not die were removed to quarantine by the government, never to be seen again.  Having lost both parents, Callie and her seven year-old brother Tyler are two “unclaimed minors” left to survive on the streets.  They and their friend Michael, another teen, move between abandoned buildings in an effort to avoid being sent to live at a prison-like institution for parentless children.

Desperate to provide shelter and medicine for her sick brother, Callie decides to sign up with a company called Prime Destinations to rent her body out to seniors who will take control of her mind, living as youth again for a week or a month.  In return Callie is promised an enormous sum of money.  The mind connection between teen “donor” and senior renter is made possible by the insertion of a chip in the teen’s brain.

During Callie’s third rental, however, something goes awry.  She experiences periods where she is back in her own mind during the rental.  Based on what she sees and hears in her senior renter’s world, Callie begins to think that the renter plans to use her body to kill someone.  This initiates a well-paced and action-packed series of events in which Callie learns her renter’s motivations, finds out about a large-scale plot involving teens to their detriment, and decides to do what she can to try to stop it.

Starters is unique and fun teen science fiction with slightly sinister undertones and some real surprises, which will appeal to a wide range of ages, pre-teens all the way through adults.  Due to certain similar key elements – inventive details, an atmosphere of fear in a society composed of a few haves and many have-nots, a strong and compassionate teen female lead, two young men with whom she feels a romantic connection – those who enjoyed the Hunger Games trilogy should definitely add Starters and its sequel, Enders, to their reading list.  As Starters is an easier read than Collins’ works, however, I think that the Young Adult Library Services Association rightly included it in their 2013 list of “Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers”.  But easier does not mean boring or poorly written, far from it.  Starters is the kind of book you devour in one sitting, much like the rich in Price’s future Los Angeles enjoy the amazing “Supertruffles”.  Now go demolish a copy yourself!

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