Gone

What do you think would happen if everyone over the age of fifteen vanished? What would happen to the children who were en route to soccer practice or the dentist when their parents disappeared from behind the wheel? What would happen to the children who were fourteen years, eleven months and x days old? What would happen as the food began to run out and the strong took over from the weak? What would happen if some of the remaining children had special abilities? What if these abilities were uncontrollable and dangerous? And what if you were about to turn fifteen and afraid of the future and taking responsibility for the younger children? And what if you had a terrible feeling you might have caused these dramatic changes?

Gone, by Michael Grant, is a YA novel that tells the story of Sam, nicknamed School Bus Sam, a teenager who was a hero once before and has coasted ever since. (He was a passenger on a school bus when the driver had a heart attack. Sam pulled the driver from his seat, jumped behind the wheel and steered the bus to a safe stop before most of the other kids realized what had happened.) When Sam's teacher vanishes during class, just poofing away in front of the startled students, some of the other children look to Sam to help them. But Sam doesn't think he has what it takes and panics under the weight of the other children's expectations.

As factions start to form, bullies banding together, industrious children taking over the cooking and care of the smaller children, Astrid, nicknamed Astrid the Genius and the girl Sam likes above all others, notices that there are other anomalies besides the vanished adults. Animals are mutating at an impossible speed and a bizarre barricade surrounds their town of Perdido Beach. Animals aren't the only ones that are changing; some of the children are developing new powers. One girl, who is badly injured at the beginning of the book when her grandfather vanishes, leaving her alone in a speeding truck, develops the ability to heal. Another child can shoot flames from her hands when frightened, which leads to a building fire that endangers the town. Sam does his best to hide his own growing power away, while worrying that he has somehow triggered the event, but eventually must reveal his abilities when a horde of bullies descend on the town, led by a charismatic boy with extremely strong powers.

When you're writing a book about a bunch of kids isolated from civilization I imagine it's hard to avoid Lord of the Flies references. (In case it's been awhile since you read that book, it's the classic about the boys on the island who descend into tribal based brutality.) I was really pleased that Mr. Grant wrote about more than the strong trying to take over from the weak. He also addresses innate human goodness, with some children rising to the challenge and caring for others who are in need. He also does a fantastic job describing the conflict that some of the characters face as they consider the price of protecting themselves and the other children in their charge.

Although I enjoyed this book very much, and read it straight through, there were a couple of little things that niggled at me. The more I read, the more they bothered me. I wondered if the author was inspired a little too much by the Fantastic Four, as several of the children begin to exhibit characteristics of the famous comic book foursome. I also had a little trouble with the story's universe as I never figured out how it worked. In the Harry Potter universe magic works for some people, who hide it from the rest of the world. We understand this fairly soon into the series and know what to expect. But I wasn't able to determine why or how the children in Gone gained their powers. Were they supposed to be supernatural? Do they come from living next to the nuclear power plant? (If so, why?) Did the laws of the universe change? These questions are never adequately answered and the book's ending didn't feel like a complete ending, which left me feeling unsatisfied. (I went to the Gone website, trying to discover if there would be more books set in this universe, which might explain why the book felt so unfinished. Sure enough, Hunger: A Gone Novel, will be released in May.

You can browse through Gone using this widget.

You can also the FAYZ website and read some posts put up by a character who lives in the Gone universe. (The FAYZ is an acronym from the book, standing for Fallout Alley Youth Zone.) http://www.thefayz.com/

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from MyRemoteNeedsBatteries who says, "This year's American Idol is boring. The best way to watch it is to Tivo it. Then fast forward through the singing. Just watch the judges fighting. Even then you'll need a stiff drink to get through it." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.