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The war delivered deadly genocide spores. Due to a shortage of vaccines, only the young and the old received the vaccination in time. Almost everyone else died. Referred to as Starters, an entire generation of orphans was produced. Some are lucky, as they have grandparents to care for them. Others aren’t so fortunate. No one under 19 is legally able to get a job, so these unclaimed Starters roam the streets and try to stay alive on next to nothing.

"Lissa Price has jumped into the YA book world with quite a splash. Her dystopian thriller is intriguing, thought-provoking and addictive, and will rivet readers to the pages as incredible characters conduct the unthinkable."

16-year-old Callie is one of these unclaimed orphans. She also has a sick seven-year-old brother to take care of. Tyler is the only family Callie has left, and she would do anything for him. Thankfully, she has her friend, Michael, to help. But just searching for a bit of food, avoiding the marshals who hunt down the unclaimed youth and throw them in the nightmarish institution, and fighting off the renegades who would kill for scraps take all of their energy. And there are no easy solutions, at least not until Callie turns 19. Until then, they struggle to survive.

Then Callie hears of a secret program offered by a company called Prime Destinations. Thanks to modern medicine, life spans are stretching up to 200 years, but the never-ending hunger for beauty and youth beckons stronger than ever. Now the seniors, called Enders, have a new option. For a hefty paycheck, struggling orphans can rent out their bodies. An implanted microchip allows a rich Ender to live in a young person’s body for a set duration and relive all of his or her youthful fantasies. Look out nightclubs, bungee jumping and hang gliding! There are rules, of course --- guidelines, limits, and a contract to sign --- that protect both the Renters and the teens. The idea of selling one’s body for money is so completely preposterous. Callie would never do such a thing if she weren’t so desperate to find Tyler a home and steady food and medicine. For this reason alone, she will sign the contract.

The first step is the complete makeover, which includes procedures to erase every imperfection. Then Callie has the microchip implanted in her head. The first rental experience, only a day in length, is a breeze and just like falling asleep. Callie is a bit more concerned with the month-long term. Thankfully, Michael will take care of Tyler while she’s working. Unfortunately, something goes terribly wrong.

Callie wakes up in the middle of the procedure. She is in a nightclub wearing fancy clothes and has a purse filled with money, but doesn’t remember getting there. Figuring that there might be a glitch in the microchip and not wanting to give Prime Destinations a reason to back out on paying her, Callie attempts to go with the flow. She pretends to be her Renter --- the rich and ancient Mrs. Winterhill. But strange clues that don’t make sense pop up, and she learns some alarming information about her Renter and Prime Destinations. Then, when Callie regains consciousness holding a loaded gun in her hands, she realizes that Mrs. Winterhill has rented her body not for fun, but for murder.

Lissa Price has jumped into the YA book world with quite a splash. Her dystopian thriller is intriguing, thought-provoking and addictive, and will rivet readers to the pages as incredible characters conduct the unthinkable. Some dark themes are introduced here: the willingness of desperately homeless teens to do anything to survive, the insatiable pursuit of physical perfection, and the impossibility of eternal youth and beauty. Price ties the story into some real life issues affecting people of all ages. Never handing out easy answers, she also does a wonderful job with the “show, don’t tell” writing rule. Not only does the story thrill at high speeds and amaze with shocking ideas, it also weaves in some stormy romance and captivating mystery.

Fans will be thrilled to know that a sequel to STARTERS, titled ENDERS, will be releasing in December 2012. I, for one, cannot wait for the continuation of this amazing debut novel.

Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on March 25, 2012

by Lissa Price