This week I want to talk about Gone, by Michael Grant. If you’re like me and not at all ashamed of judging a book by the cover, please, don’t do so here. I almost did (because let’s face it, this cover is crap), and I’m so glad now that I looked for its inner beauty.
The first thing that readers need to know about Gone is that, though it is classified as a YA novel and centers around young adults, it is written by an author whose primary focus up to this point has been children’s literature, specifically the Animorphs books. This means that the book can at times feel younger than their target audience.
In Gone, fourteen year old Sam is sitting in class one day when POOF, everyone over the age of fifteen disappears. There’s no explanation, no reason that anyone can figure, and absolutely no warning. Worse still is that anyone left disappears once they too turn fifteen. Left behind are a group of children, some of whom have begun to develop strange abilities, who must suddenly fend for themselves.
The problem is, with the disappearance of the adults came a new threat – and not just the Lord of the Flies-esque power struggle among the remaining children. All around the California town that provides the novel’s setting, a strange , impenetrable wall of energy has appeared – a wall that traps them where they are and prevents any outside assistance.
The real strength of Gone is the plotting of the mystery and the action. The true genius about the way the book is set up – and the thing that really made me feel the tension that was building the most – was that the chapter titles are a countdown. This is a major unifying element in a book that explores multiple points of view. Every time I turned the page to a new chapter and saw that time had barely moved or that a big jump had happened, I’d feel that little tightness in my stomach and that urge to read on and find out what the hell was being counted down to.
The multiple points of view in the book could have ruined it. I myself tend to hate multiple points of view because, for me, it spoils the mystery of what the other characters are thinking. However, Grant has handled the issue intelligently. Technically, the book is third person, so these jumps between characters seem less jarring. Mostly, though, the points of view all highlight very different aspects of the novel’s plot.
The villain and his compatriots are obvious from the beginning, which was something I wish had been hidden a little more and drawn out a little longer. As this is the first in a series, the ultimate climax is not any kind of resolution or explanation about what’s happened, but rather a showdown between the hero and his counterpart. This was one portion of the book that could have been more tightly packed with action. Unfortunately, the villain was not as well drawn as the good guys, which made it harder to feel anything about what he was trying to do or who he was.
My favorite thing about the book was Sam. Sam emerges as the leader in the Fayz (the Fallout Alley Youth Zone inside the dome) early through both his fairness and his heroism. But what makes Sam special is that Sam doesn’t want this. Sam wants to figure out what the hell is going on with his body and what it means. He wants his mother back. He wants to figure out what’s going on and how to fix it to get everyone’s old lives back. And he wants to figure out if Astrid, the crazy smart girl he’s had a thing for, has a thing for him. (Yeah, there is some romance, but it’s not the focus.)
The biggest problem with Gone stems from Grant’s background as a children’s author. The major difference that I’ve noticed between these two genres is that in one you have to explain all the messed up things going on and in one you don’t. Grant has tons of really crazy things – flying snakes, talking wolves, special powers – without ever really explaining them. It’s only the first book in what will ultimately be a series (the sequel is out, but I’m waiting for paperback so it’ll match the first book because I’m OCD that way), but at times, as an adult reader, you can’t help cocking your head and thinking “Flying snakes? Really?”
The younger voice of the book also can make things predictable. While you can’t quite figure out what’s going on, you can figure out the small things. You can call the villain almost immediately. You can tell what’s going to happen between the characters early. And the problems the teens are facing privately sometimes seem clichéd (a character has an eating disorder, there is the stereotypical bully, the typical jealous best friend etc.).
Overall, Gone makes for a good, suspenseful read that kept me interested through all 558 pages. It certainly contains bizarre elements (see: flying snakes), but, much like The Last Apprentice series, the pages seem to fly by and the simplicity of the writing works well to complement the mystery of the plot. I’ll definitely read the sequel.
A book trailer for Gone can be found here. Information about the sequel Hunger, can be found here.