Starters, by Lissa Price: Hope for lovers of YA Dystopian

By Jen P

In a world where spores are the modern nukes, the government can only afford to vaccinate so many. Kids and the elderly are vaccinated first, leaving the working-age adults susceptible to the airborne killer.

Starters begins after the population has been decimated by a spore attack. Callie and her sickly younger brother, Tyler, are left to fend for themselves now that their parents are gone and their home has been confiscated by the government. Without living grandparents, they are unspoken-for minors (Starters) who are not allowed to join the workforce so the long-living elderly (Enders) won’t have to compete for jobs. This forces Callie and her brother to always be on the run from officials called marshals and from the other kids their age who “would kill them for a cookie”.

In an act of desperation, Callie visits the offices of Prime Destinations, where teens have secretly been renting their bodies to wealthy Enders via brain-melding technology. The money will provide a much-needed home and financial security for herself, her brother, and her friend/romantic interest Michael. Prime gives Callie a state of the art makeover and immediately hooks her to the machine for her first rental. All goes smoothly until the second time she plugs in. Callie wakes up on the floor of a nightclub, in clothes she doesn’t recognize, surrounded by wealthy strangers.

At first, Callie just wants to complete her contract without incident so that she can get paid. But the next time she wakes up, she’s holding a gun in her hand. Thus begins a month-long back and forth between Callie and her renter for control of her body. Via in-brain communication with her renter, Callie learns of a dark conspiracy led by Prime Destinations and their sinister leader, known only as “The Old Man”. These plans threaten the future of all Starters, even those as young as her brother, forcing Callie to choose between her own cushy future and the fate of the country’s children.


If you’re bored with dystopian YA, this is a fresh take on it, posing the question: what would happen to kids if all the world’s parents died, but the elderly remained?

Callie is a strong protagonist: she fights for what she believes in, only self-sacrifices when necessary (she’s no martyr, at least not in this first book), and reacts believably when confronted with bad situations.

Her weaknesses are relatable and endearing: her only weakness is for her brother at first. Then later, her weakness extends to the rich-boy, Blake, she’s falling in love with. It’s clear she loves her brother very much, and the reader worries for his safety alongside her. Other children become important to her along the way, but beware, **SPOILERS** there’s a “Rue” moment near the end that really hurt my heart.

Starters hooks you from the very beginning, painting a picture of a bleak future of hunger, homelessness, and fear for those without (Starters), vs those with (Enders). The action is pretty much non-stop and kept this reader awake long into the morning hours during a school week. (Maybe that should be a con…)

This series is complete at two books, with companion novels if you want extra. I appreciate not having to invest in yet another trilogy or 4+ novel series.


Ageism. Sure, the kids are getting treated like crap, but this chick really hates old people. She describes how kind an old woman is in one sentence, and how gross and wrinkly another is in the next. Even she sees that more Enders are good than evil, yet is still disgusted by wrinkles and white hair. Ageism, like that other -ism, is not okay.

The romantic elements are lacking. It’s hard for the reader to feel anything for either boy, especially Blake when she hardly knows the guy. But, hey, I fell in love pretty easily when I was a sixteen-year-old girl so it may be more relatable to its intended audience.

In conclusion:

I enjoyed this book enough that I ordered the sequel, Enders. I’d like to see how life pans out for Callie and her brother, but I swear, if he gets blown up at the end, or she kills herself for the greater good, I’m giving up YA forever.

Have you read this series, or are you interested? Is it sitting in your TBR?

Do you have recommendations for similar reads? Do you know of one that’s better?

Have you been burned by YA? What book/books did you in, and how?

Please post your answers in the comments. I’d love to discuss.

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