Book Review: Gone by Michael Grant

‘299 Hours 54 Minutes.

Suddenly it’s a world without adults and normal has crashed and burned. When life as you know it ends at 15, everything changes.

A small town in southern California: In the blink of an eye everyone over the age of 15 disappears. Cut off from the outside world, those that are left are trapped, and there’s no help on the way. Chaos rules the streets.

Now a new world order is rising and, even scarier, some survivors have power – mutant power that no one has ever seen before…’

I should start by saying that this book, while aimed at young readers, does contain strong violence, cruelty and children dying/badly injured, all of which is integral to the story, but might not be for everyone.

OK after writing that – does it just sound bad to say that I really enjoyed this book?

Gone is simply such a fantastic concept for a book; suddenly you have a lot of kids trapped and alone, with no idea what is going on and no one to help them. This is actually pretty terrifying when you really begin to consider the implications of frightened children left on their own. There are no doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen. No 911 service. Older children stand more of a chance of surviving, but the younger ones left helpless in empty homes?

The image of kids walking down empty, silent, streets searching for their parents, for anyone, is pretty creepy and rather haunting. Some scenes are very upsetting – in one instance older children get organised and start to search the houses for food, medicine and any other missing children and I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

While there are these sad, hard-hitting moments, which give Gone more weight and a needed sense of realism, the majority is action packed. Naturally, a lot of kids start to run wild with the result being chaos, but on instinct kids start to band together, and loyalties and friendships are formed. The most interesting thing about Gone, wasn’t the mutant powers that some kids started to develop (more on that in a moment), it was reading about how they reacted to the situation. How they struggled to cope, how some stood up and took charge and looked out for one another and how some took advantage of the situation with horrifying and ugly results. And some very ugly things do happen in this book. We see the very best and the very worst of human nature through these kids – kindness, loyalty, sticking together, sacrifice, selflessness, power struggles, bullying, betrayal, hatred, jealousy. Sure – the mutant powers and bizarre sci-fi elements made the stakes much higher and even more exciting – but it was these fundamentals that really grabbed my interest.

Perhaps where Gone fell down slightly, for me anyway, was that there were a few too many weird things going on. The kids developing powers was cool (though how or why we don’t yet know), the mutant animals was an interesting idea – though one I felt would have been better to hint at and develop further in the next book. There is another presence/mystery that I don’t want to spoil, as it will clearly become a major plotline throughout the series, but altogether it felt like a bit too much, too soon. I felt Gone was exciting enough exploring the kid’s powers, how or why people over 15 disappeared, how they adapted to life without adults and the power struggles between characters without those extra story arcs just yet. The conclusion was pretty open-ended – and I would have liked to have seen a certain story arc wrapped up – but I am more than willing to see where Grant takes this story next.

Sam was a genuinely nice kid (often rare for YA protagonists) suddenly having to deal with everyone looking to him to take charge of a bad situation. I liked his character a lot, along with Astrid, Little Pete, Edilio, Mary and Albert. Grant created a great mixture of characters, some I disliked, others I distrusted but found myself eager to know more, for the reasons behind their actions, while others were pretty scary examples of human beings. All of them felt real.

I very much enjoyed Gone and highly recommend it, if you’re happy to accept a few, frankly, bizarre, scenarios and just go along for the ride. The chapters counting down were enough alone to make me want to continue reading – have fun seeing if you can guess what Grant is counting down to.

Action, cool powers, a hint of a romance, kids battling for their freedom against tyranny, and a hero who is actually a regular guy? You gotta love it.

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