Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Review: Hunger - Michael Grant

Extent: 608 pages
Publisher: Egmont
Pub Date: 6th September 2010

It's been three months since everyone under the age of fifteen became trapped in the bubble known as the FAYZ.

Three months since all the adults disappeared. GONE.

Food ran out weeks ago. Everyone is starving, but no one wants to figure out a solution. And each day, more and more kids are evolving, developing supernatural abilities that set them apart from the kids without powers. Tension rises and chaos is descending upon the town. It's the normal kids against the mutants. Each kid is out for himself, and even the good ones turn murderous.

But a larger problem looms. The Darkness, a sinister creature that has lived buried deep in the hills, begins calling to some of the teens in the FAYZ. Calling to them, guiding them, manipulating them.

The Darkness has awakened. And it is hungry.

Michael Grant is such a clever writer for YA fiction, he really knows how to get into the heads, not only of the teens in his books but also the children. He knows instinctively what a child of a certain age would be thinking and doing in a given situation and in so doing creates such a realistic storyline you sometimes feel like a watcher of some sick version of The Truman Show. He doesn’t worry about the sensibilities of the reader, he just ploughs on through the brutality of the situation these kids are in, he doesn’t hold off because something might be a bit too vile or a bit too cruel. If you read his books you’re going to be faced with what would actually happen and you’re just going to have to develop a strong constitution if you want to get through it.

Compared to Gone, Hunger is actually a step up in the vileness stakes as the mutations of creatures become more gruesome, the influence of the Darkness becomes more threatening and the behaviour of the characters is more disturbing. The clue is in the title really, a lack of food is driving out any goodness that was left in these kids and stepping up the survival instinct which evolves solely around self-preservation. The bad become worse and the good start to lose it. It is at this point that I really start to lose all respect for the good guys who seem utterly incapable of long-term planning, organisation or efficiency of any kind. And then I think: hang on, they are a bunch of kids who until recently were given survival almost entirely by adults – of course they are going to be totally ineffective in securing their own needs! This is where Michael Grant’s writing genius is at its best, he doesn’t give the reader what they want, he gives them what is realistic and it can have you spinning your head off is frustration and adopting the age old ritual of shouting at the TV, only at books. There are no good kids and bad kids, there are only kids and many of them are deeply traumatised and unstable. Add this to a lack of food and you end up with near savages who lose all benign sentiments for each other and replace them with paranoia, fear and prejudice.

I definitely have a very odd relationship with the Gone series: I love them for their gritty realism but that it also what makes me hate them and has me burning with frustration. I guess that just shows you what a good writer can do. And it’s not just frustration at the characters either but at the lack of answers the reader has to endure – I am literally squirming in my seat writing this, it’s like literary torture. You seem to get one big answer per book but that only raises a hundred more questions and I still feel so far away from knowing the overall truth about what is going on. I guess that shows you what a good writer can do too!

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