I am going to feel terrible about this review later. I really am. The reason being, of course, that I didn’t like this book as much as everyone else in the world seemed to. And I feel a bit guilty about giving Michael Grant’s Gone what is probably the only somewhat-negative review it has ever received. What crime has this book committed, aside from not quite reaching my (admittedly rather high) expectations? What has this innocent little novel done? (Well, it reinforced gender roles. But I’ll get to that).
Anyway. On with it.
Gone seems like the sort of book I would love. The premise: One day, out of nowhere, everyone over fifteen in the town of Perdido Beach suddenly vanishes. A giant dome (called the FAYZ) encases the town. The left-behind kids must fend for themselves. And to complicate things, some are developing superhuman powers, and a mysterious underground creature called the Darkness is calling to them. I love young adult dystopian sci-fi, gritty loss-of-innocence chronicles a la Lord of the Flies, Stephen King, and X-Men. The sample first chapter I read on Amazon was brilliant, and I was wildly excited to read more. So what has caused this sudden fall from grace? Read on.
Because this seems like the best way to organize my thoughts, I will be reviewing the book by focusing on each of the main characters. First, there’s Sam Temple, our somewhat bland protagonist. He’s mellow, humble, and a “natural leader” (whatever that means). He’s nice enough, as Everyboy protagonists go. Pleasant, sort of like that one kid in your class whose name you keep forgetting. The trouble with this was that I couldn’t identify with him. No matter how well-written and fast-paced the prose may be (which it is), and no matter how many exciting twists and turns the author throws at the reader (and trust me, there are many), I couldn’t seem to get invested because I have no emotional anchor with this character.
Tagging along on his adventures are Sam’s two friends, Quinn and Edilio. I liked Quinn a lot. He seemed very real, and very human. The way he reacted to the FAYZ and other complications in the story felt poignant and true to life. I wish he had gotten more page time. Edilio is a quiet, Honduran-American boy. His character was a bit of a blank slate. He was very stoic, I suppose, and obedient to Sam, preforming any task Sam asked of him. As he is a character of color, though, making him silently obedient to the white male lead was a bit problematic.
Then there was Astrid, the intelligent love interest, and her autistic brother, Little Pete. Astrid was a great disappointment to me as a character, as she existed only to be Sam’s supportive lady love and damsel in distress. We were repeatedly told that she is the smartest person in the FAYZ, but the most proactive thing she did was use her intelligence to pick a really good place to wait for Sam to rescue her. Most of her time in the book was spent caring for her little brother.
Little Pete was revealed to have caused the FAYZ by using his extraordinary mutant powers to make the adults disappear. I don’t know enough about ableism to comment thoughtfully on his portrayal, but I know enough that it makes me uncomfortable. I have a sneaking suspicion that the author made him autistic in order to make him seem “mysterious” and “weird”, and he seems much more like a plot device than an actual character. His autism reduces him to little more than a silent MacGuffin, easily used and exploited by the other characters.
Another major character is Lana Lazar, a girl with the power to heal injuries. We were told she was “defiant,” but she never actually exhibited defiance, probably because she spent most of her time in the story as someone’s prisoner. Most of her dialogue consisted of screaming for help or crying.
I would like to acknowledge Mary, Dahra, and Albert, my favorite characters in the book. These three understood what needed to be done to keep things going and took charge, doing the jobs no one wanted to do. Mary cared for babies and toddlers, Dahra started a hospital, and Albert took charge of the town’s McDonalds. They represented the best part of the book for me: just seeing how these kids survived and adapted to such a strange scenario. I wish there had been more of that. Even this, though, supported gender roles, as the male character used his intelligence to innovate and start a business, while the women are shoved into caregiving roles.
And of course, the villains, Caine, Drake, and Diana. These three were almost cartoonish in their egregious evilness. Caine came off as more smarmy and annoying than threatening, and Drake, while dangerous, seemed a little flat. Diana had some interesting character development, though, and I am excited to see more of her.
The real villain of the series, of course, is the Darkness. The Darkness drove the most intense plot thread of the book: what happens when Sam turns fifteen? Will he disappear like the others? This is the part that kept me on the edge of my seat, reading until the end. But even the Darkness had its weaknesses. Unlike the Beast from Lord of the Flies, or Stephen King’s supernatural menaces, the Darkness wasn’t terrifying, grotesque, symbolic, or even a little bit creepy. In this book, all it did was sit in a cave and be evil.
So, I have said a lot of negative things about this book. But, hard as it may be to believe, I did somewhat enjoy it. I loved the premise, I liked the writing, and I’m excited to see where the series goes. But I didn’t LOVE it the way I thought I would. It didn’t live up to all of my expectations, and as a result, I judged it harshly. And, from a feminist point of view, it had some problems. The racial representation was good (Edilio is Latino, Albert is black, there are two other named black characters, Lana is part Cherokee, and I think Dahra is Indian), but all of the major female characters are caretakers and helpless damsels (in this book, anyway). I give it a grudging Good, but know that the next book, Hunger (which I will be reviewing next), is much better.
Disagree with me? Want to say something about my writing? Please comment! I would LOVE some constructive criticism.
Want a second opinion? Here are some other reviews of this book on WordPress: