Saturday, June 13, 2009

Review of Gone by Michael Grant

Grant, Michael. Gone. Harper Teen, 2008.

It took me a long time to get to this post-apocalyptic YA novel, which is rather unusual as I have a strange fascination for this often-bleak genre. It must be the appalling jacket, which depicts four of the main characters – the “good” boy and girl and the “bad” boy and girl. The bad kids are sort of fabulous, actually, but what is with the heavy foundation, dowdy blouse, and fuchsia lipstick on poor good-girl Astrid? At least our hero Sam looks appropriately worried – as well he should.

Imagine this horrifying scenario – in the very small town of Perdido, CA, everyone aged 15 and over suddenly disappears. Poof! Only kids and young teens are left, and they have no phone service, television, or Internet. There’s some kind of impenetrable barrier that won’t allow them to leave their town and the surrounding area, and no one can get from the outside world to them. Oh, and some of the kids have been developing strange powers – superhuman strength, the ability to shoot fire from their hands, and so on, and animals have been mutating rapidly into rather fearsome creatures indeed. And finally, there is some horrible, powerful Dark Thing residing deep underground, and it does not wish humans well.

Scary stuff, even if all the kids were basically well-meaning but simply terrified out of their wits. However, this book ratchets up the tension by positing a truly chilling little group of amoral genius kids who take over the town and create an evil little dictatorship. Throw in those powers, the mutant animals, and the Dark Thing, and you’ve got Lord of the Flies meets Animal Farm meets Dean Koontz. Yep – very scary indeed.

Once you suspend the disbelief that these 14-year-old kids are consistently behaving like folks 5 to 10 years older, in both good and bad ways, then this is one thrilling book. The author has thought of all of the ramifications, big and small and tragic, of all adults disappearing from a town, and the terror and confusion of these kids is convincingly portrayed. That all candy bars in the town will be eaten up within days is a given, as is the fact that kids may not think to search every house – until it’s too late for at least one infant who was left alone in a crib when its parents vanished.

That kids will start to hatch sophisticated, Machiavellian plots is much less believable, and the nasty Bad Kids were simply too evil to be real. They do make for some stomach-clenching plot twists, of course, and they provide a natural foe for our heroes to battle against. But when you throw in those other dark forces, it turns into an unrelenting, unending nightmare. But man, what a page-turner!

At the end of the book, the dilemma is far from resolved. They’re all still stuck inside their giant bubble, the Dark Thing and the mutant animals are still out there – and food is starting to get scarce. What next – cannibalism a la so many post-apocalyptic books? Perhaps that’s still taboo for a YA book. And speaking of taboos, Gone definitely shies away from any sexual issues – rape and other sexual crimes seem to be the only bad behaviors the young amoral kids in this book don’t engage in, and given the torture and murder that they dabble in with great glee, this seems a strange (but merciful!) omission. And believe me, there is violence, maiming, and death galore in this book.

I will absolutely read book 2 (Hunger)– but I already know it’s going to be a harrowing experience.

Recommended for kids ages 13 and up who want a really scary and visceral adventure story – with some intense psychological mind-games thrown in.

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