Wednesday, September 24, 2008

GONE with the wunderkind

September seems to be Teen Dystopia Review Month over here. The dystopia du jour is Gone by Michael Grant, a brick of a book that has fans already clamoring for its sequel.

Yes, that is the UK cover in this entry. I'm using it because, well, I like it better than the US cover. The UK cover looks like an ad for a cool SF TV show, doesn't it? I hope when this book goes into paperback that Harper considers using the UK cover.

How it begins: It's a normal day for fourteen-year-old Sam Temple and his friends until everyone over the age of fourteen disappears in an instant. There's no warning, no time to stop what they're doing. The only people left in Sam's town of Perdido Beach are those age fourteen and under. Sam and his friends Quinn, Edilio, and Astrid quickly discover a barrier around Perdido Beach, termed the Fallout Area Youth Zone (FAYZ). No one can get in or out, regardless of age. Food and medical supplies begin to diminish, and bullies with baseball bats menace the weaker, smaller kids. Not long after all the adults disappear, a group of students from Coates Academy, the private school for troublemakers, ride into town and declare their rule. Their leader, Caine, seems like a reasonable sort on the surface but Sam and Astrid know better than to trust him. Caine, like Sam, exhibits supernatural powers. Unlike Sam, Caine is manipulative and cruel, using his power to make certain that no one upsets his self-declared status as community ruler. Caine also claims that Sam is his twin brother, that they were separated at birth and they both possess an unusual amount of the magical power. It's looking like the battle for control of Perdido Beach will be brother vs. brother. That is, until Sam learns that all of them may be facing an evil force greater than all the superpowered kids in Perdido Beach put together. And he has two weeks to figure everything out, because that's how long it is until his fifteenth birthday.

My thoughts: This book is not perfect, but it's still worth talking about. I will say that the setup and the pacing are absolutely spectacular. I read and read and the next thing I knew, I was three hundred pages in. It takes talent to make a reader not notice 300 pages have passed. The setting is clear and somehow the author manages to avoid making the reader feel claustrophobic despite the fact that the whole book takes place in what, ten square miles? Where the book fell flat was on the characterization. I understand that the first book needs to set up for book 2 and there are tons of characters to balance and not everyone is going to get great development. I know that the setup of who's good versus who's bad is the big concern. But there are two characters that drive me absolutely damn crazy. First, Caine. Caine's dialogue is often clunky and gets a little Evil Overlord in places. The way he calls Sam "brother" totally reminds me of Lore in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Second, Astrid. I haven't seen a Mary-Sue this epic since Bella Swan. I'm all for smart girls, believe me, but smart girls who know everything, who are light years ahead of all their peers emotionally, who are basically saints when it comes to their autistic four-year-old brothers, who always come up with the right plan at the right time, are not much fun to read about. I'm also not a fan of one of the big sekrit plot twists involving the cause of all the adults disappearing; it was really trite and didactic. The many religious parallels were interesting to read, I guess, but I'm not sure what to make of them just yet, or even if I'm seeing parallels where there aren't any?

Despite these flaws, I think this book has huge appeal. 17-year-olds could enjoy it and 13-year-olds could enjoy it. There's mystery, adventure, fantasy, horror, and a little bit of romance. I love the quick degeneration of Sam's town, especially because so many adults are quick to label children as adorable precious angels capable of doing no wrong. Yes, some characters make an effort to do the right thing, but Caine and his followers are unashamedly hungry for power. The lines between the side of light and side of dark are not as clear as they could be. (This is a good thing!) Not all the kids with supernatural powers are on one side or the other. It's kind of a remarkable look at the instinct for self-preservation and how the amoral quickly rise to being the scariest people around.

HarperCollins Children's Books page || at The Book Muncher || at YA New York || Michael Grant's blog

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