Pros: Very well plotted horror that's appropriate for a teen audience
Cons: I don't have the second book yet
When you read as many thrillers as I do, you sometimes start to wonder if authors writing for adults get themselves confused with authors who write for adult bookstores. I like my murder and mayhem as much as the next person, but I'm not a fan of the sex that gets mixed into the whole business. I also don't particularly love it when the mayhem becomes like a slasher movie - pointless and excessive. You know what else I don't like? I don't like the lack of supernatural shenanigans in so many of my Bloody Knife books. In other, shorter words, I'm a little unhappy with my favorite genre as of late.
But no more. Thank you Middle School Book Fair for providing me with the best Bloody Knife novel I've read in ages! The book is Gone, by Michael Grant. The genre is Bloody Knife Junior and the execution is terrific.
Gone is the tale of a small town in California where every person fifteen and older disappears in an instant. No preamble, no warning, they're just, well, gone. Cars crash as they become driverless, classrooms are left without teachers, babies without caregivers and a whole town is filled with children who are rudderless. Fourteen is a tender age to be left alone and soon the kids drift to the center of town, looking for answers, reassurance and, mostly, someone to take care of them and tell them what to do. They look to Sam.
Sam isn't a Middle School stud or anything. He's a little bit of a surfer/dreamer. But he once saved the driver of a school bus who was ill as well as all the kids on the bus. That act sticks to him like glue even as memory fades over time. In crisis people remember and look to him to be a hero. He's not particularly happy about it - he doesn't know what to do either. As Sam and his friends Astrid and Quinn try to sort out what's happening we visit with other kids who have been left behind in other parts of town. Everyone is scared, but it looks like some of the kids are developing what can only be described as "powers". A little telekinesis here, some super-strength there, maybe a little fire-starting. So what's happening in this quiet town? Is the disappearance of the adults related to these new powers? Is any of it related to the centrally located nuclear power plant? Did Stephen King write this book as a child?
Valid questions, one and all. Some of them you will find answers to in Gone. Others, well, you might have to wait just a while. For you see, Gone is book one in a series. How long a series? I have no idea. But in this first book the kids must learn how to deal with those among them whose natures are not kind and generous as well as try to avoid the seemingly inevitable disappearing act at the moment of one's fifteenth birthday. Sam must deal with an arch-nemesis (as must any good hero) and the children have to begin taking on some adult roles for which they find themselves at varying levels of competence and preparedness. The powers just add another set of problems.
The single best thing, by far, about Gone is the plotting of the story. We leap back and forth between sets of characters, getting glimpses of what's happening in different areas of town and trying to put all the pieces together to form a coherent picture. Each group has information the others lack - sometimes they keep it quiet out of survival or malice, other times because they simply do not know the others exist. The core characters are mostly kids in town and from the nearby school for juvenile delinquents (guess where the arch-nemesis comes from?), but also include a badly injured girl from an outlying ranch on the very edge of survival. As the pieces swirl together we begin to get some basic answers, and as those answers form, more questions are asked. This is not a simple world in which the kids must now live. It's wonderfully written, Grant knows how to keep thing moving for young readers (and slightly older readers who do not have a bedtime).
Since this is the first book in a series we spend quite a bit of time getting to know our main characters - Sam, Astrid the Genius, Quinn the Surfer and Caine the Nemesis. We get back story and character traits, we see how they react to their new environment and we have clear feelings about some of them and jumbled feelings for others. It's a good set of kids - fairly well balanced between good and evil with a healthy dose of those in between. There's a lot of stereotyping, but that's inevitable - stereotypes exist for a reason and yes, every school does have a computer nerd.
Will your child like this as much as I did? Well, that depends on their level of readiness for a true Bloody Knife. Gone is not without violence. It is also not without the psychological scares that come with the premise. Grant may be writing for teens, but he isn't writing down to teens. If your child is younger than twelve, I would recommend waiting another year or so. Mininocket at 13 has started the book but refuses to read it at night (smart girl), so it's going to take her awhile. So far she likes it a lot, but she isn't quite into the guts of the novel. What there is not is gratuitous violence without consequence or any sexual scenes. Which, frankly, is as refreshing as it is clearly appropriate for the target audience. I love the way Grant stays with his story rather than getting side-tracked with seeing just how much he can gross out his readers or just how much sex he can cram into his little apocalypse. Our heroes are horrified by the violence they see and are sometimes forced to commit. They're awkward and shy about holding hands or a brief kiss - they're pretty young teenagers. Normal young teenagers with whom other teenagers can relate.
A brief excerpt from the next book in the series (called Hunger) is included at the end of Gone. It also appears that the third book, Lies, is available as well. Guess what I'll be requesting from the library? I loved this first entry in the Gone series, I hope the next books maintain the momentum established by Grant in this initial outing. Highly recommended for teens and adults. Welcome to Bloody Knife Junior!
*The Bloody Knife Senior novel is one that features murder, mayhem and perhaps something supernatural and paranormal. The term "Bloody Knife" is used to describe these books I love so much due to the alarming frequency with which this very item appears on the cover art. Surprisingly, many do not actually feature the knife pictured. Bloody Knife Junior is all those things but toned down for a younger audience and also less likely to feature the knifely cover art. The world of fiction is a mysterious and wonderful place.....