Sunday, July 18, 2010

Gone, by Michael Grant

"One minute the teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone." Just vanished—along with everyone else over the age of 13 in a 20-mile radius around Perdido Beach, CA. The children left behind find themselves battling hunger, fear, and one another in a novel strongly reminiscent of William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Things go from bad to worse when some of the children begin exhibiting strange powers, animals show signs of freakish mutations, and people disappear as soon as they turn 14." product page

Sometimes when a book has a really cool concept be it "normal" or speculative in origin, I get annoyed at the addition of other sci fi/fantasy tropes like superpowers or aliens. It's like, the original premise is so cool, why do we need this other stuff in the mix as well? I touched upon this in my review of I Am Not A Serial Killer, in that book the supernatural element was one of the only things I didn't like. Stephen King's 'Bag of Bones' is probably the best example I can think of, the human story in that book was so moving and well written, and then the King flavour of scary stuff (tm) had to come along and muddy up the water.

Michael Grant's 'Gone' is totally the exception. By all accounts it shouldn't be, it is a textbook example of what I don't like. It's a very cool concept (remember when you were a kid and you'd daydream what it would be like if all the grownup disapeared? Grant takes that daydream and runs with it) and the ramifications of the the great poof would have been enough to fill a book, easy. The first few hundred pages are pretty much just that, the kids reacting to everyone 15 and up vanishing. And to be honest, it wasn't all that great.

It was all very familiar, like Grant had a list of post apocalyptic fiction staples next to him while writing it. It wasn't bad exactly, it had just been done before, and a whole lot better.

And then the supernatural element really kicks into play, and the book takes a dramatic upswing. First they discover a barrier that surrounds their area, pretty much exactly the same as Stephen King's Under the Dome, although this book predates that one. (And we don't yet have a concrete explanation for Grant's dome, all signs indicate it's 300 times better than King's). Then we start to learn that some of the kids, not all, have started to develop superpowers. Oh, and animals too are undergoing mutations, the local coyote population in particular.

Once the powers comes into play the book really finds its feet. We have epic showdowns, betrayal, romance, divided loyalties and, like, surfing brah. The one thing I really liked was that despite the fact that the book is obviously intended for a YA audience, it didn't shy away from exploring the darker realities of the situation. Start to consider, really consider, what would happen if every adult disappeared. For a start, think of all the parents at home with babies when they vanish, and then when you realise that it takes the kids a couple of days to think of that... The kids are kids and they act like it, true, but Grant seems to have a good understanding that kids are capable of some pretty amazing stuff, both amazingly good and amazingly cruel.

There was one major twist, regardng Sam and Caine for those that have read the book, that made me roll my eyes, and I think the book would have been better served without it, or at least waiting until we were more invested in the characters before revealing it.

But I can forgive that, and I look forward to reading the next books in the series.

How did I come by this book? Bookmooch (it's was terribly ratty though, so I'll probably end up buying a nice copy as well)


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