First Published: 2009
Pages: 560 (Paperback)
Series: Gone #1
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 . . .
Catching up on some reviews that, for various reasons, I never got round to writing in 2013.
How to rate this book… Gone turned into one of my favourite finds of last year, I pretty much devoured the first five books in the series back-to-back and am eagerly waiting for the paperback release of the final installment. I would happily rate the series as a whole in the 4 to 4.5 star bracket. But it’s one of those series that is somehow more than the sum of its parts and, each individual book falls more within the 3-3.5 range for me. With book one starting a bit bumpy and taking me a little while to get into. So I’m going to try to ignore hindsight and rate as my first reaction on finishing the book was – 3 stars (I liked it but nothing special).
Trimmed down to its very basics, Gone, is a modern teen-fiction version of Lord of the Flies – children without adult supervision descend into anarchy. It’s brutal and it’s nasty and has all the graphic violence and emotional reactions to it that The Hunger Games should have, but doesn’t.
Set in a seaside Californian town in the fallout zone of a nuclear power plant, one day all the adults, all the older children, everybody above the age of 15, simply disappears into thin air. The narrative follows several characters, but primarily the hero Sam, as they try to adjust and adapt to a world without adults and uncover the mystery of how and why they disappeared. And there’s a lot more weird stuff going on than just the adults disappearing.
Now I say it took me a while to get into this book and, I’m afraid, that was partly because I found the writing in the first few chapters quite poor. It’s third person limited, but somehow it read as if it should be first person, it felt almost as if it had originally been written in first person and then simply had all the pronouns switched. I have no idea if this is the case or not, but it felt odd and jarring for a couple of chapters until the point where either I settled into it or it stopped happening. I’m going to assume the later because I didn’t have any problems with the narrative voice in the rest of the series.
The main protagonist, Sam Temple, is from the reluctant hero mould. He’ll step up when it’s needed, but he wants to slink back into being a normal teenager the minute the crisis is over. At the start of the story he’s known as ‘school bus Sam’ because of the time he took over the steering wheel when their bus driver had a heart attack. But reorganising society and order over a townful of fourteen-year-old and younger kids who just want to eat junk food and play computer games is a lot harder than steering a school bus and, understandably, Sam doesn’t want that responsibility.
Step in Caine (and if you can see where this is going you’ll know why I rolled my eyes at this point) a charismatic boy from the private boarding school for ‘troubled kids’, who rolls into town with an entourage of supporters and a determination to become sole leader of the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone, as the kids have started calling it) and rather unpleasant methods of establishing and cosolidating control.
While I really enjoy this series I found the first book just a bit much in places. The initial set up was good, I liked most of the characters, I liked the fact that they had and are dealing with real teenage issues not just the weirdness of their situation, I liked that the cast and the setting was as multi-racial as I expect a town of that size should be, that there were characters who were autistic, anorexic, or depressed but who weren’t reduced down to just that one stereotype. That’s the sort of stuff I want to see more of, much more of, in not just teen fiction, but all fiction.
What I didn’t like, reading it the first time without knowledge of the later plot that, was when the writer threw in a whole kitchen sink full of weird at around the half way point. It still seemed just a bit too early for all of that. I would have preferred a slower burn with the weird; reveal the X-men style mutations some of the kids have (if it’s in the blurb it’s not a spoiler!), but maybe hold back most of the other really weird shit for book two, or have it as an end-of-book reveal/cliffhanger.
Still, if you enjoy teen-fiction and you don’t mind it nasty and gory and morally grey, I would recommend the Gone series.