Bookclub Review: “Gone”

2536134We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is ‘Books On Our To Read Shelf’, where we pick books that we’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten to.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Gone” by Michael Grant

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegen Books, June 2008

Where Did We Get This Book: From the library!

Book Description: In the blink of an eye, everyone disappears. Gone. Except for the young.

There are teens, but not one single adult. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what’s happened.

Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day. It’s a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: On your 15th birthday, you disappear just like everyone else…

Kate’s Thoughts

When I was in middle school I had already dived right into adult fiction. I would imagine that part of that was because when I was that age (totally dating myself a bit here) we were still a number of years off from the YA boom and I had already read horror and thrillers for teens by the time I had entered fifth grade. Because of this, I had a few preconceived notions about what to expect from “Gone” by Michael Grant. True, it was published in 2008, a time when the YA book dynamics had already started to change, but I thought that it was going to be straight forward and ‘kid gloved’. I was wrong. I was so wrong.

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Probably my face as disturbing detail after disturbing detail came to fruition. (source)

“Gone” is an imperfect YA end of world tale, with a lot of ideas, a lot of characters, and a lot of details that are building to something that has yet to be seen. It also has a lot of darkness within its pages, at least compared to other YA end of world thrillers that I’ve read. Nothing I can’t handle, of course, but damn, Michael Grant, you went all in. That said, I LIKED that he went all in, because it makes it seem like he trusts that his readers can handle whatever he tosses their way. And boy, does he toss some rough things their way. From grotesque wounds to spates of violence perpetrated against children to the very concept of very small children being left alone with no one to protect them, “Gone” was bleaker than I anticipated, but that made it all the more enjoyable.

That said, there is a LOT going on in this book. It makes some sense, given that 1) Michael Grant used to work on the “Animorphs” books with Katherine Applegate and those had a lot of details and world building, and 2) it has six books in the entire run. But I think that the reason it didn’t really work for me was because so much was crammed in and only touched upon, and there were so many characters to address that a lot of them didn’t get a lot of attention or development. True, there are more books to flesh all of these things out, but, at the same time, there are MORE BOOKS TO FLESH THIS ALL OUT. In other words, I wish that Grant had saved some of the details and developments for later books, just because this story did feel bloated and there were multiple characters that I didn’t feel like we really got to know. Luckily, it was the villains who were the most interesting, which is what I like to see in books like this.

This is also a very 2008 book in terms of how it approaches a number of themes, and it didn’t age well in that regard. From an autistic character to the very clear gender roles of some of the girl characters, I totally see how these things wouldn’t have been seen as problematic back then, but are definitely a bit hard to read now. I’m not going to write this book off completely because of this, as it is very of the time and that’s just the reality of it. But I wanted to note it.

I don’t think that I will keep going in this series, but I was pleasantly surprised that “Gone” trusts its YA readers to be able to take on some bleak, bleak themes.

Serena’s Thoughts

The timing of reading this book couldn’t really be better. I had just finished up my re-read of “Animorphs,” a middle grade science fiction series that Grant collaborated on with his partner, K.A. Applegate, and our bookclub theme (books on our TBR pile) gave me the perfect excuse to inflict it upon the entire group! “Inflict” being purely a dramatic term, as, while it was darker than some of our group preferred, it was still a quick, action-packed read. But oof, talk about dark.

From a non-“Animorphs” perspective, I agree with almost everything Kate said, especially about just how much is packed into this book. It didn’t really hit me until I was starting to write up questions for our bookclub discussion, but this book really through everything in at once. You have the post-apocalyptic setting with the adults suddenly gone, kids with powers, family drama, a mysterious nuclear power plant, mutated animals, some dark force potentially behind it all. There are a lot of cards on the table, and for a book that is quite obviously the beginning of the series, I do wonder if it would have been better served to introduce some of these mysteries in the next books. As it is, there is a lot to get done and I think some of the issues Kate highlighted with the characters could have been better served had they been given more time, no longer needing to fight for page time against the numerous mysteries being set up.’

The character stuff is what really struck me in this book, however, both in a good and bad way. Having read “Animorphs,” it is very easy to see bits and pieces of those characters here, and I think in some ways, these are almost better in that they are not, in fact, better people. Our main character, for example, is essentially the Jake of this story. Except that Jake accepted the call to action as a leader almost from the get go and fairly seamlessly fit into that role. There were some bumps along the way and he struggled with this role throughout, but he took up the mantle quite quickly and with little real conflict. Here, Sam is much more reluctant, and with his reluctance come real consequences. I mean, REAL. As in kids die because he backs off originally. And he knows it. This makes Sam in some ways a much more believable character than Jake. He messes up big time right off the bat because of a the very real reaction of any kid in that situation, not wanting to be the one responsible.

So that’s a good example of characters. Kate mentioned some of the negatives. To be honest, I have a hard time separating this book from Grant’s collaboration with Applegate on the “Animorphs” in this regard. Having read that series, which came first, it’s hard not to read this book through the lens of faith that some of the problematic character issues, most especially the women, will be resolved some how. If this book is of its time for handling some things poorly, “Animorphs” was way ahead of it by offering up a very diverse team and making its most badass character a girl. This makes it hard for me to reconcile the two together. I think I can objectively say that while a few things stuck out to me (there’s an unfortunate line about the autistic character, for sure), I still felt that there was enough groundwork laid in other areas to excuse some of the more gendered roles some female characters were given. For one thing, I think Diana, an enigmatic character on the bad side, was set up as one of the more complicated characters in the entire book. Does this make up for the fact that a girl is running the daycare and another the hospital while the boys duke it out for leadership? I’m not sure. But I feel like enough was done to make me want to read more and find out how everything plays out.

Where the book was definitely ahead of its time, however, was the way it treated its readers as capable of handling darker elements of the story. It almost made me wonder if YA has regressed a bit in this regard, as the stakes felt much higher and more real in this book than they have in other YA stories I’ve read recently where YA protagonists are leading armies and the fate of the world!!! yada yada. As hard as some of it was to read, this commitment to the harsh realities of what this situation would look like is probably one of the biggest reasons I want to keep reading. The next books is called “Hunger,” for heaven’s sake!

Kate’s Rating 7: A darker than I expected YA novel with lots of components, “Gone” is entertaining, a little much, and a good fit for YA readers who want more thrills than juvie fiction but aren’t necessarily ready for adult end of world sagas.

Serena’s Rating 8: This book takes it premise and goes full throttle, but its wackiness is quickly squashed beneath a serious, “Lord of the Flies”-like exploration of human nature. Also talking coyotes.

Book Club Questions

  1. This book explore similar themes to “Lord of the Flies.” If you’ve read that, how does it compare? In what ways does this book tackle themes of power and civilization?
  2. There are a lot of characters who perspectives are covered in this book. Which ones stood out to you and why?
  3. If there was an element of the story that could have been explored more in this book, which one was it? Which element would you leave out (perhaps for the second book) to make room for this?
  4. Some of the roles in this burgeoning civilization seem to be falling along traditionally gendered lines. Are there examples of the book challenging this? Particular failures that you struggled with and wish were changed?
  5. We have several explanations offered up as to what caused this situation. Which one are you leaning towards?
  6. What predictions do you have for book two?

Reader’s Advisory

“Gone” is included on the Goodreads lists: “Best Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction” and “Original Stories . . . a Breath of Fresh Air.”

Find “Gone” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “An Ember in the Ashes” by Sabaa Tahir

Serena’s Review: “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World”

40698027Book: “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” by C. A. Fletcher

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: My name’s Griz. My childhood wasn’t like yours. I’ve never had friends, and in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football.

My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.

Then the thief came.

There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.

Because if we aren’t loyal to the things we love, what’s the point?

Review: Let me tell you, a raging debate took place in my mind when deciding whether or not to place a request to read this book. On one side we have the fact that the book description sounds right up my alley, and I’m almost always looking for a good post-apocalyptic story, especially one that seems to be trying to do something new and avoiding the over-saturated realm of dystopian fiction. On the other hand, the book description references a dog being stolen….and I would NOT be ok if something happened to the dog. And let’s be real, this is a tragic world we’re entering, chances are good something would happen to the dog! But in the end, I let my better angels persuade me that fear of pet-related tragedy wasn’t a good enough reason not to read what otherwise sounded like an awesome book. And I’m so glad I did!

Generations have passed since the end of the world as we know it. But while everything is different, much is still the same, like the love of Griz’s small family and the special connection between Griz and his dogs. In a world gone quiet, made up of brief sailing trips to scavenger for more supplies, the dogs provide crucial support not only in their rabbit-catching abilities but in the happy-go-lucky, loving relationship that has always marked the special bond between dogs and humanity. So when Griz wakes to find one dog has been stolen away, he knows what he must do. What follows is a harrowing tale of endurance in the face of impossible odds, small beauties to be found in emptiness and tragedy, and the special place family, be that human or dog, holds in what could otherwise be a bleak existence.

There was so much to love about this book that it’s hard to know where to start. I think one thing that really stood out to me was the world itself. From the very first page, the emptiness and quiet of this new world was apparent. What also stood out was the fact that our narrator, Griz, has come on the scene several generations after the event that struck down the world we know. That being the case, Griz is piecing together the remnants of a foreign world and society, to varying levels of success. The reader is often left guessing as to what exactly Griz is referencing or describing, since he doesn’t always know the purpose behind the things or places he discovers. There was also a character who spoke a different language and the way this was handled was especially clever. The determined and curious reader will have a lot of fun unpacking these bits.

Griz is also a very effective narrator. The story is written in first person told from a Griz who is relating his story from some period in the future. That being the case, there are often references to the fact that some choice or another will have some impact down the line that past-Griz wouldn’t have known about but that present (and narrating) Griz now reflects upon through different eyes. As for the character, Griz was a lovely combination of being innocently naive while also supremely capable in the face of numerous challenges. There is a sense of sadness woven throughout the story, but Griz’s reflections throughout are poignant and often hopeful in the face of some very sad things. I often found myself wanting to highlight various quotes throughout and will definitely be going back to note a few to reference later.

The story is also both what I expected and much more. There is a lot happening throughout, but it also read at a slow, measured pace, giving ample time to focus on, again, the beautiful, quiet reflections of Griz. I really enjoyed how well-balanced the story felt. There is real danger to this world, and we get a few really great action scenes to highlight this fact (but not necessarily the danger you would expect, which, again worked in favor of keeping the story feeling new and original). But there was also time spent highlighting the strangeness of human interactions and relationships in a world where very few humans even exist.

I won’t spoil anything, but there’s definitely an interesting twist towards the end. I ended up guessing it, but I still think it was done very well. In fact, it’s the kind of follow through on a surprise that I wish we had seen in another book I reviewed recently. If you read this one, you’ll know what other book I’m talking about! I also won’t give away what happens with the dog. I will say that there were tears on and off throughout the book, but I still left it feeling incredibly satisfied and immediately passed it off to my friends and family. If you enjoy post-apocalyptic stories, this is definitely one worth checking out!

Rating 10: I loved this book, heart-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” isn’t featured on any relevant Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “Best Post-Apocalyptic Fiction.

Find “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” at your library using WorldCat!