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.


30 Days of Books – Day 24 – A Book You Wish More People Would Have Read

All of them. All the books. I wish more people would read more books.

This is the absolute truth, but perhaps not the most satisfying answer?

How about…Interstellar Pig by William Sleator?

It was really hard to narrow it down to just one William Sleator novel, because I’ve loved pretty much every one I’ve read, but Interstellar Pig definitely sits at near the top of the heap (again, don’t cry, I don’t store my books in heaps any more than I store them in barrels). For the unfamiliar, Sleator was a writer of bite-sized YA science fiction novels, generally informed by his studies in psychology and physics. In later years he began to dabble in metaphysics. This is all past tense because he died last year. I was terribly sad.

Interstellar Pig is a novel about a rather average teenage boy, Barney, stuck at a historical rental house with his parents for the summer. When some charismatic new neighbors move in, they ask for a tour of Barney’s rental and their interest draws him into a mysterious competition he doesn’t quite understand. It seem to center around his neighbors’s favorite board game, Interstellar Pig, which pits fantastical alien species against each other in a race to ensure their planet’s survival. And only one planet will survive

It’s a quick read, and great fun. Everyone should give it a try, even if sci-fi isn’t normally your thing. The science in this particular Sleator novel isn’t too dense or challenging, just a bit of flavor.

So This Is Love?

YA Paranormal Romance is a genre that has been booming the past few years with series like The Twilight Saga, The Wolves of Mercy Falls, and Wicked Lovely raking in sizable piles of cash. There are a fair few YA sci-fi series  aboard the train as well like Allie Condie’s Matched and Beth Revis’s Across the Universe (I’m not including The Hunger Games here because all romance is a subplot and not the main event). I am definitely not a genre snob by any means: Sci-fi, Fantasy, and Horror regardless of target age group have always made up the bulk of my reading list. However, there are a few genres I can’t abide, and Romance is one of them. 

For most of my life I referred to Romance novels as “sex books” because that’s what many of them are: various implausible situations arranged to shuffle the reader along toward a verbose description of lovemaking. So I just avoided that section of the bookstore/grocery store/my mom’s bookshelf, no big deal.

Then Twilight showed up on my go-to table at the bookstore, the first in what would turn out to be an avalanche of sex-books for the teenage set. Except we adults like to pretend that teens don’t have sex, so most of the titles are three hundred-pages of will-they/won’t-they with a dash of the star-crossed, encased in a framework of paranormal or light sci-fi circumstances.

Terminally dull.

Love is really hard to write well. Falling in love is such an intensely personal experience (though the symptoms seem to be the same), that I find it plain awkward reading a lot of these books. The author often writes a thinly-veiled account of what won her real-world heart (and it’s almost always a “her”), seemingly without thinking whether any of that would appeal to her characters. If your story is about falling in love, shouldn’t your characters, you know, do that convincingly? Rather than have a string of flat vignettes topped with a declaration by the MC “Yup, not the measles. Definitely in love.” Lucky thing you told me, because I never could have guessed.

Lust and being in love seem much easier to communicate, because the signs are a lot more similar from person to person. Falling in love is a strange beast, and poorly written monster-manuals are mucking up my favorite section at the bookstore. Bah humbug.

Am I way off base here? Have you read a book that really nailed the whole “falling in love” thing? I’d be interested to hear about it.