by Michael Grant
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Gone / 9780061909641
Where do I start with this review? I wanted so badly to love this book, but halfway through I told my husband, "I love the plot, but I can't stand the characters." Still, I was perfectly prepared to give this book a give 4- or 5-star recommendation... until the last 20 pages. Light spoilers ahead.
The plot is everything you could want from a dystopian sci-fi YA novel. On the first page, everyone in town over the age of 14 disappears completely, and it's immediately up to the remaining kids to figure out how to survive in a world that becomes increasingly creepy. The children are obviously ill-prepared to take care of, say, all the abandoned babies in town, and the result is dark, gritty, and satisfyingly creepy. In addition to all this, the town is also enclosed in a mystical soap bubble, and the town threatens to be overrun by talking coyotes and flying rattlesnakes. Seriously, this is an awesome plot.
But the characters...! This book feels like it was written by taking a bunch of recent popular YA books and trying to Frankenstein the characters together out of various YA tropes. There's Sam "Harry Potter" Everyman, a nice, strong, solid, dependable, totally average guy with a propensity towards heroics and to whom everyone instinctively looks up. There's Astrid "Percy Jackson" Sexy-Smart, whose job is to provide exposition and romantic angst and who is literally referred to in-text as both a "Genius" and a "Barbie" doll. (Astrid, being female, will not be allowed to do anything useful in the novel that doesn't entail snogging the protagonist or looking after small children.) And, of course, there's the ineffectual Sidekick Guy who spends the whole novel sulking because he's not as cool as his protagonist buddy. (Why do authors keep Sidekick Guy active as a trope? I truly cannot remember the last time I read a YA novel and thought, "That was good, but it needed more sulking.") And, of course, mid-way through the novel, the Bad Guy shows up and takes over the town through virtue of his Nicolae Carpathian powers of persuasion, a la that preppy kid in "The Enemy". Maybe I've just been reading too much YA lately.
It's not that I can't handle stock characters, but I'm just not sure that I like the way the author writes his characters. For instance, he seems to be aware of the fact that YA as a genre is in dire need of more women and minorities, and I really want to give him credit for trying to fix that. There seem to be as many named female characters here as there are male ones -- a major feat in YA novels -- and there's also an autistic character and a minority character from Honduras. On the other hand, I'm not sure that "realistically depicting prejudice" in a novel should translate to throwing around racist and ablist slurs every few pages, and I'm additionally fairly certain that a good depiction of minorities doesn't start-and-stop at making the autistic character a glorified MacGuffin and the Honduras character someone who can fix and do just about everything, but always does so at the protagonist's beck-and-call.
The female characters suffer this problem as well: despite having incredibly useful powers like genius intelligence, anti-gravity powers, and super-speed, they never really grow beyond support roles in the text. Which is odd, because you'd think that a Genius would be better used for strategy than being a nanny, and you'd think a Speedster that runs faster than the human eye can track would be able to shiv a few key characters. And some kind of award needs to go to Diana, for being the worst-written female character I've read this year: an intelligent young woman who knows full well that the villain is going to humiliate, hurt, abuse, and kill her, but sticks with him over the good guys not because she loves him, but because "The bad girl ends up with the bad boy." No, really, that's her reason. It's like an author's note in-text got incorporated into the dialogue by accident.
Then there's the ending. I realize going in that this is a series and that means cliff-hangers, but this book is a particularly egregious example. The bad guys roll up into town with a literal army, try to murder a preschool full of infants and toddlers, get fought to a position of weakness by the good guys, and then are allowed to limp off into the sunset because it's apparently the right thing to do. The villains are in perfect position to relaunch a counter-strike the next day if they so choose, and in the meantime none of the main questions surrounding the plot and its mysteries are answered or resolved in any meaningful way. Really, ninety percent of the novel could have been spent with everyone sitting on their hands for all the impact it has on the ending, and that's not fair to a reader, in my opinion. I expect something more climactic at the end than just Status Quo Resumes, Please Buy More Books.
And, you know, I liked the plot so much that I might be tempted to buy the next book, but considering the complete dodge on this ending (and considering I've been here before with "The Maze Runner"), I rather cynically believe Book 2 will do nothing more than maintain a holding pattern. There's got to be a better way to do a series than to just have the first twenty pages in Book 1 count and everything between page 21 and the final book is just killing time.
To attempt to sum up: I liked the plot idea, but hated that nothing ever seemed to be done with it. New supernatural elements were piled on every ten pages or so (mutating animals! x-men superpowers! multi-universe soap bubbles!) but none of them were resolved, explained, or brought to completion. I wanted to like the minority characters, but I disliked the fact that they all seemed flat, stale, and underutilized in favor of Protagonist McEveryman and Whiny Sulksman. I was looking forward to the ending, but was thoroughly annoyed to find no resolution whatsoever and a blatant attempt to restore status quo despite all the protagonists knowing full well that isn't going to work out. I'm very disappointed in this novel.
~ Ana Mardoll
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