It was with no small amount of excitement that I awaited the sequel to Lissa Price’s Starters, a young adult novel about a dystopian future where rich old folks “rent” young teenage bodies to relive their youths. The book was dark, clever and layered, telling a gripping story while making astute observations about growing up.
However, the sequel – appropriately titled Enders – falls so short of its predecessor that I wonder if it was written by the same author. Whereas Starters kept me glued to its pages, Enders is a chore to finish. While Starters could hardly condense its plot into one book, Enders feels stretched and thin. Whereas Starters was fresh and fascinating, Enders feels tired and done to death. Come to think of it, was Price making some sort of meta commentary on the ageing process with her two books?
Following the downfall of Prime Destinations, the “body bank” that facilitated the rentals, at the end ofStarters, protagonist Callie Woodland is reunited with her younger brother, Tyler, and best friend, Michael, and is living comfortably thanks to Callie’s ex-renter Helena’s generosity. The computer chip implanted in Callie’s brain at Prime Destinations, however, is still there, leaving her body vulnerable to being “hijacked” by someone with the right technology.
What’s more, the Old Man – the mysterious, faceless villain from the first book – is still very much around, and is able to use the chip in Callie’s head to communicate with her. So, Callie bands together with other former “Metals” like herself – as the teens with chips in their heads are called – in an effort to discover the truth behind the Old Man’s plans.
It's a bland, meandering plot with not much else going on. The most fascinating part of Starters involves a sinister plot device about the geezers taking over much younger bodies, but Enders hardly explores that. Instead, the book is about a whole bunch of things: Callie wanting to get that chip out of her head, defeating the Old Man, figuring out if her dad is really dead, etc, etc, etc. Price throws so many things at us that there's little space to explore any of them with depth. It's a struggle figuring out what the main point of the novel is.
In the absence of a strong central theme, all the small flaws in Starters are amplified in Enders. Callie, who appeared a little impetuous initially, is full-blown irritating and immature here. “I don’t talk to liars, you lying liar!” she hurls out eloquently during a climactic point.
Furthermore, Price’s depiction of this society, where all middle-aged adults were killed in the Spore Wars, starts to make less and less sense the more you read about it. And her love for plot twists and surprise endings, nicely handled in Starters, is on overdrive in Enders as she chucks “big reveals” at us one after another, while removing everything that caught our interest in the first book.
Callie’s love interest Blake, so prominent in Starters, is shuffled aside speedily without explanation. And while Price keeps talking about how important Tyler is to Callie, we hardly see him in much of the book. Meanwhile, her relationship with Michael, so sweetly outlined in the first book, is clumsily handled here.
As these established relationships are poorly dealt with, however, we're introduced to a whole slew of new characters, most of whom leave little impression. There’s also a new potential romance for Callie, which isn’t just jarring but becomes increasingly unconvincing as the story progresses.
Enders is an apt example of a problem that's plaguing the young adult fiction genre, the tendency to rush out books or a series based on a concept instead of a fully-fleshed narrative. Alas, it takes more than one great idea to tell one great story.