The short opening chapter of Goneis great – sitting in class, Sam’s staring out of the window dreaming about surfing rather than paying attention. Then, without warning, the teacher vanishes. Along with every other adult and child over the age of 15 in their town.
It’s a gripping, bold start, which I loved. Major characters are introduced very early on and while they are pretty stereotypical, there’s a few more unusual ones to keep things fresh. The children left, all under 14, at first are completely bewildered – torn between mourning their parents and enjoying the sudden all-you-can-eat candy or the ability to stay up all night playing Xbox with nobody telling them what to do.
Michael Grant’s prose style is fairly plain – quite typical of YA fiction which, actually, I find a bit of a shame! One of the major things I often notice about teenagers is that their vocabulary is less advanced than I would expect. While there’s some things we can do about that, there really is no better way to improve your vocabulary than reading (learning lists of words just isn’t the same!) and when teenagers just read YA fiction like this, they’re not going to be expanding their vocab which is a shame. Someone like John Green, however, has a much broader range.
Anyway. What his style does do is make it incredibly easy to race through these novels which, at 556 pages, are not insubstantial! The Lord of the Fliesis 320 – and that’s the novel to compare this too, on all counts. It is the Lord oft he Flies set in the modern era; children isolated from parents, split into two camps – Jack and Ralph in Golding’s novel, with the town kids in Gone coming up against the kids from Coates Academy, a boarding school for ‘troubled’ (read: violent and psychotic) rich kids. Anyone who’s read The Lord of the Flies at school, and in my opinion it improves on study, will recognise the parallels but Grant’s gone further in this novel by giving some of the kids mutated superpowers – they can shoot light from their hands, suspend gravity, move really fast – all sorts.
Sam, played by Ralph, is just trying to get on with things. He’s helped by Quinn, his best friend who’s having a hard time realising his friend has developed the power of shooting light from his hands, and Astrid, who’s pushing Sam to take control of the town for everybody’s sake. Then we’ve got the Coates Kids lef by Caine, who’s a little bit crazy and wants control, Drake who’s a raging psychopath, and Diana, who’s a sociopath along for the ride.
Grant also goes much further in the violence he’s willing to show on the page. Golding gets pretty brutal at times with his deaths but he also tempers it by shying away from showing every one – the ones that are shown are shocking as a result. Grant here imagines a world of children quickly turned feral, and turning on each other. Contrary to some Amazon reviews I did find the descriptions of violence quite graphic (and they worsen in later books in the series): it’s incredibly disturbing at times. There’s also inevitable comparisons with the Hunger Games; while I found Katniss and Gale far more compelling characters than many in this book, the raw visceral nature of this was more than enough to pull me along into the series.