Imagine what it would be like if you were 14 years and then suddenly, in a blink of an eye, everyone aged 15 and above simply vanishes into thin air. Your teachers and your older classmates all simply disappear into nothing right before your eyes. And then, after the immediate euphoria that school’s done for the day, you begin to realise that your parents and older siblings have gone. Your mum is gone.
This is just what happens to the kids of Perdido Beach, a small town on the southern Californian coast. But there’s even more to it than that. The kids soon learn that an area with a diameter of 20 miles has been encased in an impenetrable dome. Nothing can get out, nothing can get in. And just to tweak up the terror a little bit more, some of the kids appear to have developed strange powers – spontaneously creating fire or light, healing abilities or reading minds. Even animals exhibit odd behaviour.
Such is the world of Gone, the first in Michael Grant’s Young Adult series known as The FAYZ – the Fallout Alley Youth Zone – in which there is nothing but kids. It’s a fast-moving, pressure on series. Gone was published in 2009 but already since then there has been Hunger, Lies, Plague and, most recently this April, Fear. In Gone, though, we first meet 14-year-old Sam Temple, a brave lad known for past heroism who takes on the burden of looking after the town of increasingly frightened, isolated, hungry and, in some cases, violent kids.
With Sam is no-nonsense Astrid, creating a little spark of romantic sizzle with Sam, her withdrawn brother Little Pete, Sam’s surfing brother Quinn and the reliable Edilio. When a cohort of kids from the nearby Coates Academy turn up, roles are assigned. Some kids look after the food, while others are assigned to care for toddlers or put out fires. But Coates brings with it Caine, Diana and the bully Drake. Without parents or teachers to control, it’s not long before we’re in Lord of the Flies territory.
But this is a world in which there are big mysteries – what is the dome? What happens to you when you turn 15? How can you stop it? And what is in the mine?
I love the look of this series. The paperbacks have stark covers and the pages of each volume are different colours. They’re not short books either. Michael Grant takes his time to build up the pressure under the dome but that doesn’t mean that you get much time to take a breath. The individual stories race along with revelation upon revelation, the relationships build, and all the time the clock is ticking. Each chapter counts down the hours. It’s relentless.
Sam is a very likeable character to follow through the novel. But he is a hero with demons – one of whom is called Caine. There is brutality and violence here. There are wild biting coyotes, kids get killed, they disappear from the pages while still trying to keep a grip on a friend’s hand, and there are terrifying glimpses to what might be the cause of the FAYZ.
Gone was a novel that got under my skin and terrified me. I was reluctant to read the rest until I knew that the series had an end. But now we know – it finishes in 2013 with Light. The clock ticks. I’d better catch up.