Sunday, 26 June 2011

Review: Gone - Michael Grant

Extent: 576 pages
Publisher: Egmont
Pub Date: 3rd September 2009

Suddenly it’s a world without adults and normal has crashed and burned. When life as you know it ends at 15, everything changes. There are no adults, no answers. What would you do?

Those left must do all they can to survive. But everyone’s idea of survival is different. Some look after themselves, some look after others, and some will do anything for power... Even kill.

For Sam and Astrid, it is a race against time as they try to solve the questions that now dominate their lives . . . What is the mysterious wall that has encircled the town of Perdido Beach and trapped everyone within? Why have some kids developed strange powers? And can they defeat Caine and his gang of bullies before they turn fifteen and disappear too?

It isn't until the world collapses around you that you find out what kind of person you really are.

If you need to go on a crash diet then my advice is to read this book. When I first downloaded Gone onto my Kindle I thought it was going to take me ages to get through it as it’s pretty hefty – digitally speaking – but within only a few days I was distraught to find I’d hit the last page. Apart from work I suspended all other activities and a bowl of cereal became a suitable substitute for dinner. I literally trembled my way through Gone and could not abide putting it down in case something hideous should happen to the characters in my imagination. Every time I had to switch off, the heroes were on the point of defeat and I couldn’t bear to leave them hanging there, so switch offs were fairly infrequent (that’s what I particularly love about my Kindle, needing no hands to read is a real aid to multi-tasking!).

The writing is spot on for this kind of story, the pace is perfect to keep your heart pounding and the story complex and long enough to leave you satisfied. So many questions are raised right from the start and the lack of answers is agonising but the real key to Michael Grant’s writing is that no answer is predictable. I was literally left scratching my head, teetering on the point of confusion when I turned the final page and I don’t know how I have managed not to dive straight into the next book – some form of mental masochism I suppose.

It’s the main character, Sam, that holds all the threads of the story together and keeps his friends alive with his quick thinking and natural courage. Sam offers a glimmer of hope that in the event of adult eradication a leader would step up who was good-natured and had incredible common sense but at the same time, his inevitable demise hangs over the reader as a countdown to his fifteenth birthday is issued at the start of every chapter. Sam and his friends are so easy to empathise with, they all have their own problems and their own way of dealing with those problems and none of them lack characterisation.

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of this story is that it is so reasonable to imagine that out of the book universe, if all the adults really did vanish, every single event the characters go through could actually happen. Why wouldn’t the bullies become tyrants? Why wouldn’t it take so long to organise search parties for the youngest survivors that they end up finding only corpses? Why wouldn’t a kid take over the McDonald's to try to boost morale? More importantly, the kids have real problems like bulimia, cowardice, autism and psychopathy, which makes for an interesting cast that set up engaging plot assets and storylines – they’re not just your average book heroes with endearing little flaws, they have the hardcore issues you would find in any bunch of actual kids.

You do start to freak a little at the realism, like when you were forced to read Lord Of The Flies for GCSE, and that’s exactly what this book is – Lord Of The Flies with microwaves and mutations. There are moments when I felt genuinely uncomfortable and slightly disturbed, there are vivid images that will stay with you, popping into your head at unexpected times and reminding you that you haven’t read any of the sequels yet. But if you can swallow all that, you’ll find in Gone an astonishing exploration of courage – what it means to different people, how different people achieve it and how people deal with not having it.

Gone is so worth reading and when you have, I challenge you to say you were not deeply affected by it.

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