by Rebecca Ray

The blurb on the back cover says, "PURE is about fourteen --- the age when you know everything, except when you don't know anything. It's about first love and the end of innocence..."

I beg to differ. PURE is about a 14-year-old girl desperate enough to let boys and men do whatever they wish with her. It's about a girl disturbed enough to enjoy being hit. It's about a girl who discovers a fascination with sharp objects and the harm she can do to herself with them. And the most frustrating thing is that, other than bringing matters in her dysfunctional family to a head with her behavior, we are left without any real closure or explanation for her impulsive self-destructiveness.

The unnamed narrator's tale starts out with some relatively harmless feeling-up in the school yard, but even this is related with a dull hopelessness that is never fully explained. Many of the girl's experiences are the stuff of other teen angst novels, such as zits, conflicted loyalties to unpopular friends, hopes of impressing an admired classmate, and haggling with a loving and bitter father. Most of us can relate to some of this. But after the first time she gets hit in the face and likes it, I began to lose whatever identification I'd had with her. Choice after choice, this reader wanted to shake her, despite the fact that it was clear she felt she had no choices. "Yes, I think I knew pretty early on that I'd let Oliver f--- me," she says of her new 27-year-old boyfriend, and "let" him she does in her own pigsty of a bedroom, with her parents downstairs watching the telly.

The viewpoint is relentlessly detailed, and our narrator relates the physical sensations and her feelings carefully and sometimes inventively. What I missed was some description of what she was thinking, of how she processed the events in her life.There are some wry observations. "The sick splattered over his trainers and on to his jeans. It formed a little river and ran off on its own. I thought it probably had the right idea." I think this could have stood alone, but it was pasted on the end of an at least two hundred word description of this kid vomiting up a hot dog.

And this quote is about as close as she comes to introspection. "It wasn't the right way to feel, Oprah wouldn't have approved." (Let me tell you, kid, Oprah wouldn't approve of you carving H.A.T.E in your arm with a compass, either.)

I hope that as Ms. Ray matures she turns her considerable skill to a more thoughtful approach to another subject, or even this subject. She became somewhat of a sensation in Britain when she published this book as a teenager, and it is certainly a sensational book.

Just don't judge it by its back cover.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol ( on January 23, 2011

by Rebecca Ray

  • Publication Date: June 15, 2000
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802137008
  • ISBN-13: 9780802137005