I read Michael Grant’s Gone on my sister’s recommendation, and I’m so glad I did. It’s brilliant and exciting, Lord of the Flies meets X-Men in a contemporary small town setting.
I was hooked by the very first paragraph: “One minute, the teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone.” I can imagine lots of kids wish their teachers would just disappear, especially during really boring classes, but what if it really happens? What if all the adults in the world disappear? “No ‘poof.’ No flash of light. No explosion.” Just disappear. I actually appreciate how non-climactic the disappearances are, such that the kids the remain at first think they must have imagined it.
The premise of Gone reminds me of a Star Trek episode where all the adults in an alien planet have died from a disease and the kids have formed a Lost Boys type society, basically being complete brats and driving the Enterprise crew insane. Thankfully, the children in Gone are more mature. Everyone 15 and older has disappeared. Main character Sam is a natural, albeit reluctant, leader. As scared as the other children, the only advice 14-year-old Sam can offer when the adults disappear and younger children look to him for guidance is eat a cookie. There’s almost a Peanuts-type wisdom in that advice, now that I think about it, but mostly it just reflects the children’s helplessness.
The adults disappearing isn’t the first weird thing to happen to Sam however. Something else has happened to him, which I won’t reveal here because part of the fun is finding it out, but basically it makes Sam worry that he has caused the adults’ disappearance. Later on, he finds out that he actually isn’t the only, um, unusual resident of the area, and the unusual nature of certain children may hold the key to what has happened to the adults.
In a world without adults, who’s in charge? As Sam’s best friend Quinn tells him, adults are no longer around to keep the bullies from imposing their rules. How can children who don’t know how to drive and barely know how to cook fend for themselves and care for the really young children? Even more urgent, what happens when they themselves turn fifteen?
Gone has an exciting premise and likable characters. I love seeing Sam’s growth from scared kid to hero, from avoiding the leadership role to embracing it and working to improve their situation. Quinn is an interesting character as well, a free spirited surfer unable to handle the pressure of responsibility, and I look forward to seeing him develop even further in the next book. I love that Astrid is such a strong female character. Nicknamed Astrid the Genius, she spouts random facts when she’s nervous. Her character however is given added nuance because of Little Pete, her autistic younger brother. When the adults disappear, she has no idea where he is, so she sets off to find him, taking Sam and Quinn with her. Mary, who takes responsibility for the day care centre, is forced to become remarkably mature, caring for babies and toddlers all wanting their mothers, and I love how she has her own personal demons to battle as well. Perhaps the most endearing character is Albert, who takes over the local McDonald’s. He takes his role so seriously he actually studies the McDonald’s manual cover to cover.
The bad guys range from bullies to an actual psychopath. Their leader is charming, intelligent and powerful, more than a match for Sam and his friends. I’ve always believed that amazing bad guys help make heroes amazing as well, and Gone has a match up I love reading about. The ending of their ultimate confrontation in this book was a bit frustrating, as my sister warned me, but good news is, there are several more books in this series.
One thing that surprised me is how religious some of the main characters are. It’s not a bad thing, just unusual in contemporary fiction. It’s not preachy in any way, which is good, and the events these kids face certainly merit some appeal to a higher power.
The book answers a lot of the questions it poses, even as it leaves a lot of other questions hanging. Gone is exciting, action-packed young adult fiction. I’ll definitely be checking out the next book in this series.