"The Lord of the Flies" was one of the most unsettling books that I read at school (over 45 years ago!). It combined the horrifying realization of the Milgram experiments - that decent, ordinary people could behave in unspeakable ways with the minimum of a contextual shift - with an entirely believable set of characters in an all-too-plausible situation. I could identify with them, see friends (and rivals) around me who would react as Golding's creations had done. And the basic plot seemed wholly original: it wasn't one of the classic patterns that writer after writer had taken a crack at.
So how would you update it for the 21st century? How do you achieve the sudden enforced isolation of a group in an alien environment? In an era of GPS and satellite communications, it's hard to disappear, impossible to isolate. "The Truman Show" suggested a way that might work for one person, and "Gone" borrows some ideas from this world-in-a-bubble, but as the idiom goes "that doesn't scale". How about the characters - and the audience? And who is the audience, anyway? Golding wrote his masterpiece as an allegory for all ages, but that's a rare achievement.
Michael Grant decides to focus on the "young adult" audience, which means that the book has to compete in a world of "Buffy", reality TV, and videogames. In keeping with the zeigeist, the isolation of the young protagonists is achieved through a science fiction device: a "rapture of the adults". And the games begin.
OK, so I'm not the target audience of this book, but no matter. If adults can cross over to "Harry Potter", I don't see why I can't enjoy "Gone". And I did. Mostly. The first half of the book is really strong: some great scenes that Golding would have enjoyed. There are touches of Stephen King, and some wholly convincing character development. The childcare and McDonalds subplots are wonderful. I care about these people.
After that, things start to drift out of focus. We have a variety of "supernatural" plot elements which are never adequately related to any kind of underlying truth. It's OK for an author to leave the reader in a state of uncertainty; here it feels as if the author is uncertain - or perhaps he wants to keep his options open. There are a couple of "deus ex machina" moments which seem horribly out of place, although they would certainly provide opportunities for some cool CGI in a TV adaptation. (I'm sorry, that sounds cynical.) The inexorable march to the climax (announced with a count-down timer on each chapter) takes us to an interesting nexus which leaves far too many things unresolved. For the next book? For the TV series?
I'm glad I read this book, and I really enjoyed bits of it. There's a lot of good writing, and great plot potential. I wish that the author had shown more confidence in the strength of his core ideas, and hadn't felt the need to toss in so many distractions. Another Amazon reviewer wrote "Gone has just about everything in it...suspense, action, mystery, romance, supernatural sci-fi...all that good stuff." Exactly. A little less would have helped.
on October 30, 2011
Gone / 9780061909641
Where do I start with this review? I wanted so badly to love this book, but halfway through I told my husband, "I love the plot, but I can't stand the characters." Still, I was perfectly prepared to give this book a give 4- or 5-star recommendation... until the last 20 pages. Light spoilers ahead.
The plot is everything you could want from a dystopian sci-fi YA novel. On the first page, everyone in town over the age of 14 disappears completely, and it's immediately up to the remaining kids to figure out how to survive in a world that becomes increasingly creepy. The children are obviously ill-prepared to take care of, say, all the abandoned babies in town, and the result is dark, gritty, and satisfyingly creepy. In addition to all this, the town is also enclosed in a mystical soap bubble, and the town threatens to be overrun by talking coyotes and flying rattlesnakes. Seriously, this is an awesome plot.
But the characters...! This book feels like it was written by taking a bunch of recent popular YA books and trying to Frankenstein the characters together out of various YA tropes. There's Sam "Harry Potter" Everyman, a nice, strong, solid, dependable, totally average guy with a propensity towards heroics and to whom everyone instinctively looks up. There's Astrid "Percy Jackson" Sexy-Smart, whose job is to provide exposition and romantic angst and who is literally referred to in-text as both a "Genius" and a "Barbie" doll. (Astrid, being female, will not be allowed to do anything useful in the novel that doesn't entail snogging the protagonist or looking after small children.) And, of course, there's the ineffectual Sidekick Guy who spends the whole novel sulking because he's not as cool as his protagonist buddy. (Why do authors keep Sidekick Guy active as a trope? I truly cannot remember the last time I read a YA novel and thought, "That was good, but it needed more sulking.") And, of course, mid-way through the novel, the Bad Guy shows up and takes over the town through virtue of his Nicolae Carpathian powers of persuasion, a la that preppy kid in "The Enemy". Maybe I've just been reading too much YA lately.
It's not that I can't handle stock characters, but I'm just not sure that I like the way the author writes his characters. For instance, he seems to be aware of the fact that YA as a genre is in dire need of more women and minorities, and I really want to give him credit for trying to fix that. There seem to be as many named female characters here as there are male ones -- a major feat in YA novels -- and there's also an autistic character and a minority character from Honduras. On the other hand, I'm not sure that "realistically depicting prejudice" in a novel should translate to throwing around racist and ablist slurs every few pages, and I'm additionally fairly certain that a good depiction of minorities doesn't start-and-stop at making the autistic character a glorified MacGuffin and the Honduras character someone who can fix and do just about everything, but always does so at the protagonist's beck-and-call.
The female characters suffer this problem as well: despite having incredibly useful powers like genius intelligence, anti-gravity powers, and super-speed, they never really grow beyond support roles in the text. Which is odd, because you'd think that a Genius would be better used for strategy than being a nanny, and you'd think a Speedster that runs faster than the human eye can track would be able to shiv a few key characters. And some kind of award needs to go to Diana, for being the worst-written female character I've read this year: an intelligent young woman who knows full well that the villain is going to humiliate, hurt, abuse, and kill her, but sticks with him over the good guys not because she loves him, but because "The bad girl ends up with the bad boy." No, really, that's her reason. It's like an author's note in-text got incorporated into the dialogue by accident.
Then there's the ending. I realize going in that this is a series and that means cliff-hangers, but this book is a particularly egregious example. The bad guys roll up into town with a literal army, try to murder a preschool full of infants and toddlers, get fought to a position of weakness by the good guys, and then are allowed to limp off into the sunset because it's apparently the right thing to do. The villains are in perfect position to relaunch a counter-strike the next day if they so choose, and in the meantime none of the main questions surrounding the plot and its mysteries are answered or resolved in any meaningful way. Really, ninety percent of the novel could have been spent with everyone sitting on their hands for all the impact it has on the ending, and that's not fair to a reader, in my opinion. I expect something more climactic at the end than just Status Quo Resumes, Please Buy More Books.
And, you know, I liked the plot so much that I might be tempted to buy the next book, but considering the complete dodge on this ending (and considering I've been here before with "The Maze Runner"), I rather cynically believe Book 2 will do nothing more than maintain a holding pattern. There's got to be a better way to do a series than to just have the first twenty pages in Book 1 count and everything between page 21 and the final book is just killing time.
To attempt to sum up: I liked the plot idea, but hated that nothing ever seemed to be done with it. New supernatural elements were piled on every ten pages or so (mutating animals! x-men superpowers! multi-universe soap bubbles!) but none of them were resolved, explained, or brought to completion. I wanted to like the minority characters, but I disliked the fact that they all seemed flat, stale, and underutilized in favor of Protagonist McEveryman and Whiny Sulksman. I was looking forward to the ending, but was thoroughly annoyed to find no resolution whatsoever and a blatant attempt to restore status quo despite all the protagonists knowing full well that isn't going to work out. I'm very disappointed in this novel.
~ Ana Mardoll
Welcome to the FAYZ, short for Fallout Alley Youth Zone. There's no one who's over the age of fourteen; they've all "poofed," they're just gone. But the strangeness only starts there. There's a circular wall, or maybe dome, surrounding the land within a ten-mile radius from the nuclear plant. The wall is impenetrable and burns you if you touch it. There are strange mutations in the animals, such as seagulls with talons, winged snakes, and talking coyotes. Some kids have also developed strange powers. The rules of the world are changing, and Sam is running out of time before he turns fourteen and is bound to poof.
The kids from Coates Academy come down to the town of Perdido Beach, and one of them, named Caine, basically takes over. He acts as if he's benevolent, but people are dying, and it's because his sheriff and Captain Orc's little gang of bullies keep beating people up who break the rules imposed on them by Caine. And while some of these rules are actually valid, others prevent people from gaining any power to oppose Caine.
Sam, Quinn, Edilio, Astrid, and Little Pete find themselves thrown together for survival. Sam knows that something is off about Caine, and he also has a power to shoot fire from his hands. They are constantly running from Caine or one of his allies. They eventually meet a girl Lana, who is a healer, and discover that Little Pete has special abilities of his own. When they save a bunch of kids with power from Caine, who had them imprisoned with their hands cemented in blocks, the kids join their movement to take Caine down. The struggle escalates, and all their lives are at stake.
When I first read the summary for this book, I was extremely intrigued. This new world is almost like a parallel universe. I really enjoyed the references to Harry Potter, Star Wars, Hollywood, Agent Orange (the bad), and other literary works. Reading into Astrid and Sam trying to figure out where they were and what was happening to their world was very stimulating. There is a lot of exciting action in this novel, and even though the kids' powers sometimes seemed like they were taken from the movie The Incredibles, I still enjoyed it. I wanted to cheer and scream at the ending of the novel, and I really hope there will be a sequel to this book. Gone was simply an amazing book; I don't think I can stress that fact enough, and I recommend it to everyone. This book is very thick, and I hope its length will not discourage anyone from reading this fantastic story.
on June 28, 2008
Abracadabra anyone over thirteen years old simply vanished. Preadolescent kids are stunned when they realize there is no one ordering them about. Soon that shock turns to fear as a tough mentality begins to create a social Darwinist environs.
With the help of his kinetic power, Coates Academy charming delinquent Caine takes control of Perdido Beach with an iron rule. Sam also has power but he is reluctant to use it as he blames himself for the disappearance. Whereas some of the children look to townie Sam to take charge, Caine tightens his hold through his academy Freaks minion. War in Fallout Alley Youth Zone between the two sides is imminent; though turning fourteen next week means Sam is GONE.
The obvious immediate perception is that of the Lord of the Flies in a Left Behind world that turns Wild in the Streets. The story line explores the reactions of the young when the older generations are suddenly GONE. Michael Grant targets teens, but does not dumb down his apocalyptic thriller, which will delight his audience especially with knowing what Sam knows will happen to him shortly; as he has one week left before he vanishes. Although he prefers not to get involved, he is a natural leader; as is Caine although their values differ. Thus good neighbor Sam expects an OK Corral like battle against Caine that he believes will determine the future, which he hopes is his legacy once he is GONE while his adversary's bully mentality is based on maximize your pleasure at the expense of others in order to live for today.
What a scary-fun book!
This book envisions Perdido Beach, (Lost Beach) a place where all persons over age 14 vanish one day, the town is cut off, and the kids who are left begin showing scary powers.
The obvious influence on this story is Lord of the Flies, but another book exists where the adults disappear, Trouble at Timpetil by Henry Winterfield. I prefer to see these stories and others as influences; they share a theme of absent parents, and kids facing difficulties with their own resources.
Arguably, there is something about human nature that manifests when children are placed under pressure... are we noble savages, or do we embody omnes bellum omni, a war of all against all, naked savage and brutal? This sort of fiction chooses the savage over the noble. From the first moment in the book, the impulse of the children is to give into their worsening natures...
But regardless of philosophy, a good story is only good because of the telling, and this story is quite good.
There are several mysteries layered into the story. Who is School Bus Sam, who is Caine, why are they fighting to save the kids and control the new isolated land? What happened to the adults? What do the new powers mean? What the hell happened?
But the story is more interesting for the challenges the kids face, and how they face them. These are very human kids, and they alternate between smart strategies and childish responses, in a realistic way. The story that results is fast-paced, and the writing is crisp. The few kids who choose "good" must face the many who are weak or rudderless, and the bullies who come to power.
There will be a sequel, and I will buy it immediately. There will probably be a film or a TV series, and if it is as well-constructed as the book, I would watch it. The story is fantastic, in teh sense of being totally un-realistic, but the writing sharp, and the people have real responses to the scary strangeness around them.
This is not a life changer, but it is good for teens, interesting for adults, and hard to put down when read at the beach...
Author Michael Grant has taken a very common child's fear, the fear of being left alone, and coupled it with science fiction and fantasy in his book, "Gone."
When everybody over the age of fourteen simply vanishes one day, kids in Perdido Beach, CA react in different ways. Some go on a rampage, looting and taking whatever they can get their hands on in an adult-free world. Many are scared, especially the very young, and look to others for help. A few try to make sense of what has happened and attempt to restore order. Some even see this situation as a perfect time to take control. Combine these groups of youngsters with a world that's literally changing before their eyes and you have the perfect setting for conflict.
Sam Temple, who's almost fifteen, reluctantly heads up the group of kids trying to restore order to the chaos. His best friend, Quinn, reacts to his new surroundings with confusion and fear. The local kid genius, Astrid, tries to find a logical answer for what's happening to the kids in Perdido Beach and protects her autistic brother, Pete. Other kids find themselves as unappointed "professionals" in areas ranging from daycare to running the local McDonald's.
Meanwhile, a group of kids from the local private school for troubled youths, Coates Academy, have fallen in under the leadership of Caine Soren, a calculating and cold boy who, like Sam, is almost fifteen. His key friends are the psychotic Drake Merwin and the highly influential Diana. Caine tries to restore order to this new society, but in a way completely different from Sam.
Some of the kids have taken on new powers that range from meek to dangerous in this new world. Even the animals are "evolving" to survive in this strange environment. Both are viewed as an advantage and/or disadvantage to Sam's group and Cain's minions. Who come's out on top? What happens when you turn fifteen in this new place? And how do you deal with bullies when there are no adults to contain them? All will be answered in this book.
While it clocks in at over 550 pages, don't let the physical size of "Gone" scare you, especially if you are a teen. Grant moves the story along at a nice pace once the key situations are set up. About a third of the way through this book, it really picks up pace and becomes a nice page turner. Grant also leaves the story wide open for a sequel, which I'm sure he's already working on.
There are a number of subplots running throughout this book, including one about a young girl, Lana, and her dog, Patrick who are even more isolated than the kids in Perdido Beach. There's even dashes of religion, Catholicism to be specific, sprinkled throughout this story. It was nice to see St. Michael's prayer in a book other than one written by a priest.
There's almost no bad language and no sex at all, so parents can feel safe letting their pre and early teenaged children read this story. There are a few graphic moments, some ending in death, that might disturb younger readers. Still, "Gone" is a thrilling and fun read for anybody over the age of twelve. I highly recommend it.
on June 24, 2008
Remember that controversial reality-TV show where they put a bunch of kids in a ghost town and let them run their own world, without any adults? Whatever happened to that? In reality, you can go only so far without breaking written and unwritten laws; in imagination, you can go all the way, and that's what GONE is: a fully imagined world in which all the adults have vanished and kids are forced to survive on their own, as the world around them mutates in terrifyingly unfamiliar, menacing ways.
What happens? Well, inevitably, leaders emerge, and to me the heart of this book -- and what makes it far more than just an exciting thrill ride -- is the emergence of two leaders, a good one and a bad one. It's not as simple as white and black hats, either: the "good" leader responds very reluctantly, though at last very stirringly, to the call, and the "bad" leader is an attractive and recognizably hurting individual. And they're both 14 years old! And they're more intimately connected to each other than you might imagine.
The more this book sinks into me, the more I connect it with the upcoming election. Our world is mutating in terrifying ways, and we're about to choose someone to lead us into the unknown. What are the qualities of a good leader? Who has them? GONE is an allegory of this moment, at the same time as it creates a gripping, spooky, and strangely seductive world all its own.
on July 21, 2008
Gone by Michael Grant is a truly fascinating novel. One moment Sam is sitting in school listening to the teacher drone on and the next minute everyone over 13 has disappeared. Sam then takes a journey not only to find out what has happened, but a journey to overcome his own short-coming and fears. Mr Grant writing is very easy and I was hooked after just a few pages. Twists and turns abound, and I was left guessing up until the end which is left wide open for a sequel which I highly anticipate. Mature themes like leadership, death, growing up, survival, and others make for wonderful character development and an excellent story. I highly recommend this one!
on July 15, 2008
Fair warning: I was the editor of this book once upon a time, though I have since left publishing and have no stake in this novel. I just love it and think everyone should read it. It's that good.
(Also, I want to counter-balance the malicious efforts of someone else, a spamming geek of a so-called "author" who has jealously tried to tear down Michael Grant's achievement here by posting tons of fake negative reviews.)
Some books grab you from the first chapter, or from the first few pages. GONE grabs you from the first SENTENCE and doesn't let up until you turn the final page. It does this not through cheap tricks but through basic good storytelling. You care about the characters and you want to know what happens to them and you'll stay up all night reading in order to find out.
The story is described elsewhere, but here it is again: For some mysterious reason, everyone over the age of fourteen has disappeared. The kids of San Perdido are left to fend for themselves--to figure out how to ration food, how to deal with violence, but mostly how to deal with each other. Because at the same time the adults disappeared, many of the kids are manifesting strange and often deadly powers. And not all of these mutated kids are sweet and reasonable.
There are elements here that readers will recognize, elements that a lot of television shows and writers have used before--think of LOST or HEROES or Stephen King. (The writers of those shows and King also use a lot of familiar elements. There truly is nothing new under the sun.) But what Michael Grant shares with those writers is an ability to take an idea and make it new, and to combine lots of ideas into something sustained and original and awesome.
It's a great book. Can't wait to see what comes next!
One moment Sam's history teacher is lecturing about the Civil War, and the next he's gone. Poof! Vanished. Except it's not just his teacher; ALL the adults are gone. All that's left are those under 15, including the little kids and babies. Somebody needs to take charge. Most look to Sam, who once saved a bus full of kids when the driver had a heart attack, and when he's reluctant the bullies take over. But questions loom: where has everyone gone and what's the strange barrier that surrounds the town. And even worse, Sam's afraid he might have been the cause of it all.
I found myself reading this book every available moment, staying up late at night, unable to put it down until the end. Right from the beginning the story was tense and gripping with likeable characters you find yourself cheering for. But definitely a book for the older kids as I think it might be a bit frightening and intense for the younger ones. My 14 year-old is eager to read it, but I think I'll dissuade my 9 year-old from it for now. And while I hesitate to compare it to Harry Potter, it hooked me in the same way, leaving me looking for any excuse to read a few pages. And even though it's a "young adult" novel (on the plus side, you don't have to worry about a lot of foul language like many "adult" books), I enjoyed it thoroughly and look forward to more from the author.