Friday, 10 October 2014

Gone, by Michael Grant

Gone, Michael Grant
On an ordinary day in November, every resident of Perdito Beach over the age of 15 vanishes. Poof- into thin air. The students at Perdito Beach middle school don't know what to make of it initially. One minute their teacher is talking about the Civil War, the next the chalk is falling through the empty air and he's gone without a trace.

It's the different reactions to this brave new world that drive the story. How do 14 year olds cope when they're given the reins? To some the reality of a world without adults means unrestricted fun, every kid for themselves and no responsibility. To some it's a death knell; with no police, teachers or grown-ups the tyranny of 14 year olds is unstoppable. To protagonist Sam Temple it means that everybody is looking to him to sort it out, to lead, to make decisions and tell everyone it's going to be okay. Just because of the one heroic thing he did once, the rest of the town looks to him for answers.

When Perdito Beach is suddenly taken over by the charismatic and smooth talking Coates Academy student Caine Soren, social order quickly starts to disintegrate. To begin with he assigns jobs, looks like he's the guy to keep Perdito Beach ticking over until the grown ups return. But as the hours tick by, Caine reveals his paranoid, power hungry self, and it becomes clear that the supernatural powers that some of the teens are starting to develop are going to land them in grave danger. Caine cannot have challenges to his authority and the Perdito Beach kids (even the Coates kids) are either with him or against him.

When Sam discovers that the town is encased in an impenetrable electrified barrier, he has to ignore his impulse to run and take his rightful place as the leader of the resistance. With his group of friends turned fugitives, Sam, Quinn, Eldilio and Astrid the Genius (along with her severely autistic younger brother, Little Pete) have got to find the cause of the FAYZ, the origin of the strange mutations that seem to be giving them mysterious and dangerous powers and stop Caine's reign of cruelty and terror.

What I liked most about this book was its sheer accessibility. There are no long sections of description, no philosophising and no extra baggage weighing down the plot. It's fast paced, relatable and full of realistic, funny characters that act in ways that are both believable and understandable. It's proof that you don't need to make things complicated to produce a breathless, exciting story. Each chapter begins with a countdown until Sam turns 15 and "poofs". Throughout the whole book, there's a frantic, desperate feel that genuinely prevents the reader from putting the book down. Its pace is kind of phenomenal.

I loved how relatable the kids in the book were. The panic, the fooling around, the sarcasm all felt completely genuine. The 'bro' relationships and the sometimes tense, sometimes inseparable links that that sort of friendship means. The potential for good and evil that exists in everybody was really well realised and the author did an excellent job of showing how the characters found out what type of person they were in the heat of the moment; hero or coward, leader or follower, traitor or ally. I loved how the characters struggled with themselves when their true self was revealed trough their extreme circumstances. It's not until your mettle is tested that you really know who you are.

In summary then Gone is an exciting and frantic action story that looks at how people cope with extreme situations, how they manage to rise to the challenge or disappear under the pressure. The book looks at the behaviour of bullies and of heroes and how gang mentality works in the face of a situation that seems to have very few real consequences. It looks at how far some people will go to get what they want and how far some people will go to do what is right. There are some giggles, some really good characters and lots of really authentic 'best mate in crisis' dialogue. Fans of Alex Rider and The Enemy would love it. It's basically Under the Dome meets Lord of the Flies. But with X-Men style mutations...

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