Random Review: Gone

My feelings about this book are proving hard to articulate, or even pin down.

Gone by Michael Grant

This is the first in a series of YA sci-fi novels set in the small town of Perdido Beach, where every person aged fifteen or older suddenly disappears one morning. In addition to facing basic questions of survival, the children of the “Fallout Alley Youth Zone” (or FAYZ) find themselves in a power-struggle complicated by some individuals’ development of super-human abilities. My feelings about this book are a bit tangled, so I’m going to try and use a list to make sense of them:

  • These books are described as both a sci-fi Lord of the Flies and  Stephen King for kids. It does not have the believable psychology and slow transformation of a Lord of the Flies, the mounting horror as civilization leaves the boys one by one. The “bad” kids start bad and end that way, pretty much the same with the “good” or “heroic” kids. There is a lot of telling rather than showing with these characters. As to the Stephen King claim…Stephen King is Stephen King for kids. The stories are good no matter your age, and many of his novels and stories have protagonists as young (or younger) than these kids. A parallel might be drawn between some of the themes of good and evil, the premise (similar to Under the Dome in the first novel, blurbs for later novels indicate shades of It and The Stand). Rather weak tea, but I understand that marketing departments have books to sell.
  • I found it hard to relate to main character Sam, the “reluctant hero” of the tale. He felt like a cipher to me throughout the novel. I was told that he had feelings, longings and reservations, but I never felt them as a reader. Secondary characters like the very capable Edilio, cowardly Quinn and Astrid, and pragmatic Albert felt far more vivid to me. The book shone brightest in segments dealing with Lana, the exiled problem-child who finds herself alone and gravely injured in the desert.
  • I liked that some characters were allowed to be cowardly, and the recognition of the damage seemingly “courageous” acts can do when carried out by an emotionally sensitive person.
  • Fifteen is a weird age to disappear at. Perhaps this will be explained later in the series, but it just sort of sat in the back of my mind bugging me while I read. It seems like an age picked for convenience to the writer rather than logic.
  • The beginning progresses rather slowly, but after the arrival of the private-school kids things get crazier and crazier. This is good. When the crazy picked up (and the action with it), it became easier to get caught up in the story and ignore some of the weaker characterization/writing.
  • The people of Perdido Beach were not the only things affected by the event that spirited away the adults and granted others powers. This is another strong point of the novel.

In the end, I liked the story and am interested to know what happens to the denizens of the Fallout Alley Youth Zone, but I am reluctant to actually read more of Michael Grant’s writing. His ideas are aces, his execution is only okay. For others, I imagine it will be a matter of taste. If you are picky about writing, maybe not the story for you. If you can ignore clunky sentences and unearned character moments as long as there’s plenty of wild action, I couldn’t recommend this book more.

Chair Rating:

Complex, interesting in theory, a bit problematic in practice.

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30 Days of Books – Day 29 – A Book Everyone Else Hated but You Liked

We have nearly reached the end of this fine, fine meme…and I just realized that it is Tuesday and I should go check what the Top Ten Tuesday theme is for this week.

Some of my most lasting impressions from my K-12 days are the days we would get a new book for class. I would go straight home and often read the whole thing that night (neglecting all other homework), ensuring weeks of discussions in which I would try to participate without talking about stuff the other students hadn’t read yet.

Many of my fellow students hated the books purely because they were books, which must be read.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding was a book that I loved, which my peers seemd tormented by. When they weren’t confused or utterly disinterested, they were disgusted with descriptions of the littleuns getting diarrhea from too much fruit, or tittering over Jack running around naked as a jay-bird.   

To be fair, their disinterest may have been the fault of our teacher. She was heavily into symbolism and I’m not sure that a forty-five minute lecture on Simon as a Christ-figure was ever going to light a fire in rural 8th-graders from an orchard town.

I, on the other hand, seriously dug the novel. Novels that examine “civilization”, its creation and collapse, its interdependent human systems, continue to be my favorites. Much like Stephen King’s Under the Dome or O.T. Nelson’s The Girl Who Owned a City, Lord of the Flies always felt very true to me. That’s just what would happen.

The novel is a “what-if”: “What if a plane full of British schoolboys crashed on a deserted island and they were forced to fend for themselves with not an adult in sight?”. The boys begin attempting to emulate the type of civilization they were raised in, but more extreme personalities in the group soon sieze the opportunity to indulge their more uncivilized impulses.

As things spin swiftly out of control the novel deftly explores what it is that civilization preserves and masks. The youngest children represent the general population: their interests are food, shelter, safety, and pleasure.  Ralph is a natural-leader type, willing to take up the mantle of leader because he can see a way for everyone to get along in relative comfort until rescue arrives, if only they will all pitch in. Opposing him is Jack, a boy seduced by the idea of power, willing to threaten safety and promise comfort without work in order to obtain it.

The other major players divide along lines based upon their need for civilization. Piggy is a creature entirely dependent upon it: he wears eyeglasses and has asthma, he exists by the grace of civilized society. Naturally, he supports Ralph. Just as naturally, when their island-society crumbles Piggy is no longer afforded the grace needed to survive. Simon, stand-in for religion and philosophy, is the first sacrifice the boys’s  primitive natures. Those complex systems of belief, those graces, prove all too fragile in the face of base instinct.

Backing Jack we find Roger, a boy with a nature too violent to fit properly into civilized society. He needs their civilization to crumble as much as Piggy needs it to stand. With these carefully crafted players in place, Golding lets the novel unwind along with the boys’s social programming, more shocking with every page.