So I asked Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page to write a guest post about the series for me. You see, not only is Jen a fellow dystopia fan, she's also my book twin. Odds are if she loves a book, I'm going to love it. She also writes amazingly concise yet in-depth reviews that are a joy to read, which makes her one of my top go-to book bloggers when I want reading recommendations. And you know what? I think she may have finally made me excited about picking up this series!
Hunger and Gone are the first two books in a projected six-book series by Michael Grant (book 3, Lies, is scheduled for US publication May 4, 2010). The Gone series features an irresistible premise for dystopia junkies. One day, in the middle of the school day, an impenetrable dome appears around the town of Perdido Beach, CA. (For what it's worth - Gone was published nearly a year and a half before Stephen King's The Dome). The Gone dome has a 20 mile diameter, and also encompasses a nuclear power plant, a snooty boarding school, a national park, and a sweep of ocean.
What the dome doesn't encompass is adults. Everyone over the age of 14 vanishes when the dome arrives. Other teens disappear as they reach their 15th birthdays. The kids left in the dome have no idea what's going on in the outside world, or even if the outside world still exists. They're on their own. They name their territory The Fallout Alley Youth Zone, or FAYZ.
As if the struggle to survive (finding food, taking care of the younger children) weren't enough, the kids from Perdido Beach soon discover that the boarding school kids are dangerous rivals. Also, some of the kids start to develop unusual abilities (superpowers like invisibility and hyper-speed). These are sometimes helpful, and sometimes harmful, but always make things more complex. As do some developing romances between the main characters. And, oh yes, there's an evil force hidden in the depths of an old mine shaft, that (mostly in Hunger) creeps into the minds and influences the behavior of some of the kids.
"This is an irresistible premise and setting. The plot is fast-faced and compelling. The characterization is excellent, too. The kids have talents and insecurities and relationship conflicts. The primary hero, Sam, is a natural-born leader who resists taking charge. He's joined by other strong, interesting characters.
Although Gone is a long book, it moves quickly, and I read the whole thing in a single day. Each chapter has, instead of a title, a countdown to how long it will be until Sam turns 15. This device ratchets up the suspense."
and about Hunger:
"So what we have, in summary, is a battle between kids with superpowers and a mysterious evil force, set against a backdrop of social unrest after a natural disaster. Dystopia fans will find this series hard to resist. Fair warning, though. Hunger is very bleak. In some ways, I found it more bleak than Life As We Knew It and the Dead and the Gone (two of my favorites, by Susan Beth Pfeffer)... But I found the social dynamics of the book fascinating. There's a whole sub-plot centered around Albert, the boy in charge of the food, who is pushing for the re-introduction of money. He feels strongly that the only way to get kids to work is to give them some individual incentive. I found that whole thread well-done, without being at all message-y. I also liked the bits about kids adjusting to a dystopia set in a modern society - they miss Facebook and MySpace, and they want to keep their GameBoys charged, and so on."
I was a bit less enthusiastic about the characterization in Hunger (I couldn't quite internalize the struggles of the characters), but thought that the tension and issues were ratcheted up compared to the first book, and that it was a better book overall.
I think that the Gone series is an excellent addition to the genre, and will appeal to teen and adult dystopia fans. I think that the books would make great movies (or mini-series). And I'm looking forward to the next book.
Thank you so much Jen!