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The International Writers Magazine: Young Adult Fiction

GONE by Michael Grant
Hardcover: 576 pages
USA Publisher: Harperteen (Jul 2008)
ISBN-13: 978-0061448768
Published by Egmont April 6th 2009.
UK ISBN: 978 1 4052 4234 -9

Sam North

It’s funny but increasingly true that the best writing these days is not coming from adult literature but young adult or teen fiction. You only have to look at the success of Twilight by Stephanie Meyer and realise that it is true with 10 million copies sold of her Vampire series. Patrick Ness has cut new ground with his electrifying ‘Knife of never letting Go’ (Walker Books) in the UK and now here is Michael Grant with ‘Gone’ which is an update of Lord of the Flies with some of Heroes thrown in for good measure. Does that mean it isn’t original? Hell anyone could update Lord of the Flies, right. But Grant did and we didn’t and he deserves respect. Add some special powers and you have a very cruel and harsh growth spurt of violence in a small town community when they are cut off from the rest of America.

Set in Perdido Beach, California in the present day, it’s a pretty normal day in high school when first the teachers vanish and slowly all the kids under 15 realise that everyone over this age has gone. Completely. Young babies abandoned by mothers, trucks smashed, stoves, TV’s , everything left on, (in one car crash teen Lana is left crippled as her Grandfather literally vanishes at the wheel).

The electricy stays on, curiously, despite no one manning the nearby nuclear power station.

This is a world were a MacDonald’s fixated young teen realises that someone has to save the store and run it and there’s at least a years supply of burgers in the fridge. It is also a town were someone has to step up to the plate and take responsibility, but of course, unfortunately there are others who thrive on chaos and misfortune.

Like Lord of the Flies before it, it comes down to good guys versus bullies and the bullies quickly get the upper hand.

Sam, burdened by being a childhood hero who saved people on the bus when it was going to crash doesn’t want to take up the slack and into the vacuum comes Ork, lazy fat bully with his henchmen. Added to the mix is the private school up the road, Coates Academy where troubled, rich kids go. Very troubled.

It’s a classic class war and it takes on life and death manifestations as evil grows.
Sam wants to do right, his girl Astrid (who has an autistic four year old sibling) wants him to do right, but he has a new power he is trying to deal with, anger in the shape of a laser that shoots out his hands and he’s not a natural leader. Michael, from Coates Academy is a natural leader and he has special skills too and is prepared to use them to get his own way. When he drives into town with his cruel gang, including Drake the psychopath, he takes over. He recognises Sam is a rival but quickly neutralises him. (Everyone is measured in bars, like the signal on your cell phone. Sam and Michael are four bars - fully powered).

Meanwhile Lana, lying up in the hills with her dog Patrick has a broken leg and arm and may die. She slowly learns that she can heal herself. But curiosity grabs her when hiding out in an old miners hut and she discovers the talking Coyotes and something sinister called ‘The Darkness’. Her life changes from that moment on.

How this all plays out is absolutely gripping. These kids are all literarily in a bubble. There is a wall all around them (much the same thing happened in the Simpsons movie I must say, but what it lacked in invention is here a plenty).

Think Zardoz (A Sean Connery movie where all of the people who live forever behind an invisible wall). Think ‘Battle Royale’ where all the school kids are pitted against each other until the last one standing. There are influences from many sources, all neatly brought under one roof. Many of the kids are developing ‘powers’ such as mind-reading, or creating a force field or moving really rapidly and it doesn't matter that Heroes did this before, it still fascinates.
Some like Drake are afraid of them and when he catches them he dips their hands in concrete so they are powerless and hungry being unable to feed themselves. It is not for the squeamish this.

Gone is a really fast read and all the characters are well defined with strengths and weaknesses and the violence starts pretty fast. This is no burgeoning utopia.
It will sell millions and they will make the movie

© Sam North October 2008

and if you like this seek out The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Thrilling unacknowleged adaptation of Battle Royale to post-Apocapyptic USA. Gripping teen survival story.

Published Summer 2008 - Mean Tide by Sam North
'Extraordinary novel about a child's psychic awakening'

Lulu Press - ISBN: 978-1-4092-0354-4
'An engaging, unusual and completely engrossing read' - Beverly Birch author of 'Rift'
Order now

Sent to live with his spooky Grandma by the river in Greenwich, Oliver (12) discovers a whole world of disturbed people who are probably even crazier than the ones he left behind. When he finds a dog with its throat cut on the beach, everything changes.
Age range 12-16 and adult

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