Title: Gone and Hunger
Author: Michael Grant
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Harper TEEN
Publication Dates: Gone – June 2008; Hunger – May 2009
Hardcover: Gone – 576 pages; Hunger – 608 pages
Stand alone or series: Books 1 and 2 in the Gone series by Michael Grant.
Why did I read these books: I’d had my eye on Gone for a while last year – the premise sounded phenomenal, a sort of modern day Lord of the Flies with a supernatural twist. Finally I decided to pick it up a few months back…and I couldn’t put it down. And when I got an ARC of Hunger, book 2, I was ecstatic.
Summary: (from Amazon.com)
In the blink of an eye.
Everyone except for the young. Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not a single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. Gone, too, are the phones, internet, and television. There is no way to get help.
Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day.
It’s a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen and war is imminent.
The first in a breathtaking saga about teens battling each other and their darkest selves, gone is a page-turning thriller that will make you look at the world in a whole new way.
It’s been three months since everyone under the age of fifteen became trapped in the bubble known as the FAYZ.
Three months since all the adults disappeared.
Food ran out weeks ago. Everyone is starving, but no one wants to figure out a solution. And each day, more and more kids are evolving, developing supernatural abilities that set them apart from the kids without powers.
Tension rises and chaos is descending upon the town. It’s the normal kids against the mutants. Each kid is out for himself, and even the good ones turn murderous.
But a larger problem looms. The Darkness, a sinister creature that has lived buried deep in the hills, begins calling to some of the teens in the FAYZ. Calling to them, guiding them, manipulating them.
The Darkness has awakened. And it is hungry.
Gone introduces us to the world of the FAYZ – the Fallout Alley Youth Zone. In the blink of an eye, everyone in the small seaside town of Perdido Beach over the age of 15 has disappeared. Poofed. Gone. A strange, shimmering barrier separates the residents of the FAYZ from the outside world; a dome-like structure that distorts even sunlight and stifles waves on the ocean. Frightened and alone, the children look for leadership and turn to 14 year old Sam, known throughout town for his single act of heroism a couple of years back, having calmly steered a school bus to safety when the driver had a sudden heart attack. As one of those marked by nature as a leader, Sam is still reluctant to claim responsibility for every living person in the FAYZ – and he’s spared from having to take control when kids from Coates Academy, the private school a few miles north of the beach, show up in town. Led by the handsome and charismatic Caine, the Coates kids take control of the beach, designating jobs for the other children. Though Caine initially seems smoothly benevolent, it becomes clear to Sam and a few others that Caine and his lackeys are more interested in power than the well-being of any of the children, especially after his makeshift “police force” (comprised of former bullies) beat a young girl to death. And soon, Sam discovers that something is very strange about the FAYZ – certain children, including Sam and Caine, have developed superhuman powers, and animals begin displaying shocking new characteristics. Snakes can fly, coyotes can talk, and something lurks in the darkness, hungry and ancient. Meanwhile a war is brewing between the Perdido Beach kids and the Coates kids, as Sam and Caine race for control of the FAYZ before they turn 15 – for at 15 years old, they too will disappear.
Gone is a forceful, relentless novel. A bit Lord of the Flies, a bit It, a bit X-Men, this was a novel that I could not tear myself away from. Tightly plotted, dark as hell, with a number of surprising twists along the way and a multitude of wonderful characters, Michael Grant won me over with this solid start to a new series. Though the main focus of Mr. Grant’s books isn’t necessarily an explication of man’s animal nature when stripped of its facade of civilization portrayed through the eyes of children (such as Lord of the Flies), there is something haunting and compelling about these sorts of post-apocalyptic/stranded/dystopian novels. Especially those that involve children.
Plot-wise, I couldn’t be more pleased. Michael Grant seems to me to be a Stephen King fan (and in turn, Stephen King is one of Mr. Grant’s), employing a broad scope of different, deeply flawed characters thrown into an impossible situation and letting them grow from there. Upon starting the book, I had absolutely no idea that nuclear radiation induced superpowers would play any role in the novel, nor did I expect the book to be so dark as it ultimately was. Though the writing level is decidedly young adult, the themes within the novel and the level of violence is certainly more mature. Children kill other children; they use guns; they reduce others to starvation and cruel imprisonment. If William Golding let his lost boys use automatic weapons and superpowers, Gone might have been the final product.
The similarities to Stephen King and Lord of the Flies are imbued in every sentence of this novel, as though Grant is paying homage in his own unique version of these dark, coming of age parables. The division between Perdido Beach and Coates, between Sam and Caine is very much the same divide between Ralph and Jack (of LOTF). The characters are similar in their notions of right and wrong, civilization versus survival instinct. And, like King’s It (and somewhat like The Regulators/Desperation for reason’s I won’t disclose for fear of spoiling), something ancient and very hungry waits to devour the young children of the FAYZ; evil, dark, patient. The blend is intoxicating, and it makes Gone something very different from the slew of speculative fiction young adult novels on the market.
Just as the plotting and ideas for the story were wonderfully imagined, the characters were also solid. Sam as the reluctant leader who makes more than his share of missteps is wholly believable, and his complete lack of interest in taking control of Perdido Beach endears him as the obligatory “hero” character. His transformation from someone who chooses to remain average and anonymous – reflected especially in his deteriorating friendship with best friend Quinn – to strong leader is an engaging, resonating read. Sam’s love interest, the brilliant Astrid (nicknamed “Astrid, the Genius” by the Perdido crowd) plays leading lady in Gone; Astrid is Sam’s second in command and though somewhat support-system-esque is a strong character in her own right, especially as a very smart girl caught in a very bad situation, and also as an older sister trying to protect her younger, autistic brother.
However, the most engaging characters in my opinion were the “baddies” (not exactly surprising – “bad” characters are so much more fun than the good guys). While Caine, as Sam’s opposite, is fascinating in his motivations and machinations for power (if somewhat predictable), the two standouts to me were his lieutenants, if you will: the malicious, sadistic Drake, and the manipulative Diana. Drake is every child’s nightmare; a bully, eager to inflict pain in any way he can, practically a serial killer in the making. Drake is bitterly angry at Caine and the other “freaks” who develop superpowers, but a dark twist of fate brings him power of his own late in the novel (a deliciously horrifying twist). Diana, in contrast, is an enigma. She manipulates characters to her own inconceivable ends – including Caine, who is in love with her. She is cold, calculating, and I had no idea what her endgame was…and that is something incredibly refreshing in any novel, let alone a young adult novel. The multitude of secondary characters, on both Sam and Caine’s respective “sides” of the FAYZ are wonderfully drawn and I applaud Mr. Grant’s keen sense of teenage (and younger) children. Very compelling stuff.
Perhaps the most wonderful, shocking thing about Gone was the fact that I was expecting it to be a self-contained (no pun intended) story, with a definitive resolution. More often than not, I’ve found that YA series’ tend to wrap things up in a single book and then later a “companion” novel (same world, different story) will be released as its own stand alone novel. Imagine my shock, then, when I finished the book and the FAYZ was still going strong – no resolution, but many provocative questions had been raised. I eagerly looked for the next entry in Mr. Grant’s Gone universe, and campaigned for an ARC of book two…
HUNGER: A GONE Novel
Hunger begins months after the events of Gone, detailing how life has soured in the FAYZ over the course of a few months. Though Sam has been able to beat turning 15 and has blossomed as the leader of Perdido Beach, he has a number of problems facing him ever day – the most pressing of which is food. In the early days of the FAYZ, the children ran amok, raiding the local Ralphs (a Southern California grocery chain) and homes for cookies, chocolate bars and chips, while the fresh produce sat untouched. Now, months later, the McDonald’s has run out of frozen food, everything perishable has rotted, and there are no more cookies or goodies remaining. Resorting to eating canned artichokes and condiments, the children of Perdido Beach begin to turn on each other – catching vermin, eating neighbors’ pets, and the jokes about cannibalism start to hold an ominous foreboding.
After being beaten by Sam and his crew of superhuman freaks, Caine has visited the mysterious, terrifying entity in the local mine called The Darkness, and has spent weeks in a terror-gripped coma. When he awakens, Caine has a singleminded mission and aims all his strength at taking Perdido Beach down once and for all. Though, Caine’s thoughts aren’t quite his own…the Darkness waits and like the children of the FAYZ, it is very hungry.
As the title suggests, this second novel focuses on the theme of hunger and the continued deterioration of civilization in the FAYZ. There are many deliciously creepy scenes in this installment – one of my favorites has to be the opening chapter, with killer flesh eating worms in the fields. Mutations are becoming more prominent in this book, and the X-Men comparisons are completely warranted. As one would predict, lines begin to be drawn in the sand of the Perdido kids – between the Normals (or, as their Stryker-minded leader calls them, the Human Crew) and the Muties/Freaks/”Moofs”. Kids are frustrated with their hunger, not wanting to work for their food and blaming Sam for their problems. When the Coates kids come back and make a stand for the nuclear power plant, Sam has reached the end of his rapidly fraying rope – which is completely understandable, given that he is just a fifteen year old boy with the weight of a community on his shoulders.
By and large, I think Hunger lived up to its predecessor, and in some aspects surpassed it. There is much more revealed in this installment about the source of the FAYZ, and much more explored with the maleficent Darkness that has its hooks into characters that have been in its presence. The violence is turned up in this book, as is the twisted, gleeful sadism Mr. Grant inflicts on his characters – and I mean that in the best possible way. This is not a series for the weak of heart!
However, there were some drawbacks to Hunger – namely, how boring Sam and Astrid were. I felt a little bit of Jack and Kate (of the TV show LOST) sort of apathy towards these two heroes; Sam is the woebegone leader who just doesn’t want to lead but just can’t help it, and Astrid spends way too much time relegated to a secondary, worried girlfriend role (for a genius, Astrid doesn’t do too much in this book – powers or no powers, I wish she had been given something more interesting to occupy herself with than cry about Sam and her brother Little Pete).
Once again, I found myself infinitely more interested in the Coates kids – namely Drake and Diana. Drake is less formidable in this book, but still remarkably terrifying; and Diana’s motivations are as ambiguous as ever. Her relationship with Caine is dark and twisted – and is it wrong that I am fascinated with them, much more so than boring, vanilla Sam and Astrid?
Back on the “hero” side of the line, Lana (the Healer) gets a whole lot of attention in this book, as do Computer Jack, Brianna “The Breeze”, and Albert. These secondary characters again are far more interesting than Sam and Astrid – particularly Lana’s tortured compulsion to the Darkness, Jack’s spinelessness, Breeze’s superhero fixation, and Albert’s cool calculating personality. Each of these characters are well rounded and fascinating, making for a wonderful ensemble cast.
As for the story, once again I found myself unable to put down this second book, and it was over far too quickly. Luckily for me, and for other fans, Hunger is just book 2 of a planned 6 book series. I cannot wait to read book 3, titled Lies, to see what next will befall the children of the FAYZ.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Harper Teen has a phenomenal LOOK INSIDE feature, where you can check out the first few chapters of many of their titles. Check out the opening of Gone and Hunger below.
Additional Thoughts: In addition to the wonderful Look Inside feature, the Harper Teen website also has a fantastic homepage for the Gone novels.
Also, make sure to check out the author’s blog (which took me forever to find!) HERE.
I also mentioned earlier that Stephen King, the Master of Horror himself, is a fan of these books. If you’re into King, you may know that his next novel coming out in November of this year is titled Under the Dome. It is a rewrite of a novel King began to write in the 1980s, with something of a similar premise:
On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mills, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when—or if—it will go away.
Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens—town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing—even murder—to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.
~ Synopsis from Lilja’s Library
Dan Simmons has already given his stamp of approval. Who else is excited?
Verdict: Gone and Hunger are dark, compulsive reads embodying the best of post-civilization novels and supernatural fiction – for both young adult and adult readers alike. I, for one, cannot wait to return to the FAYZ once more.
Highly recommended…and Hunger just might make it on my list of favorite reads so far in 2009.
Gone – 8 Excellent
Hunger – 8 Excellent
Reading Next: Jasmyn by Alex Bell