Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Double Review: "Gone" and "Hunger" by Michael Grant

Michael Grant and I go way back. Well, not personally, but my first intense fandom was Animorphs which Grant co-wrote with his wife, K.A. Applegate (at least according to Grant's twitter page).

So knowing the author was one reason I picked up the series, but I also love reading the "adults disappear" genre - how many books have sprung from the premise that all of the adults mysteriously disappear? And added in to this one is the kids developing super powers. This has gotta be fun, right?

Set in a bit of California colloquially known as Fallout Alley, officially Perdido Beach, after an accident at the nuclear power plant 15 years before (a meteorite hit the plant and kept right on going, burying itself deep underground), on one normal fall day in the middle of school and everything, all of the adults and teenagers over 15 disappear. Poof. One minute they're there, the next they aren't.

It's a terrifying time - the first couple of days are spent getting their bearings. Finding someone to take care of the infants in day care, keeping curious 5 year olds from setting fire to their houses, and discovering that some of the kids aren't just normal kids anymore: they've started to develop super powers.

Not to mention that there's also some sort of barrier around the whole town, meaning that the kids of Perdido Beach only have a bit of land with a ten mile radius to live in. There's no way of knowing what's outside of the barrier; perhaps that's where their parents are and are trying to get back in to Perdido Beach. Or perhaps Fallout Alley is all that's left of humanity?

There's another group of kids in Fallout Alley as well, Coates Academy, a private boarding school for kids with "problems." While the Perdido Beach kids are nominally led by Sam, a local hero for his quick thinking when his bus driver had a heart attack, the Coates Academy kids are led by the charismatic - and at least slightly dangerous - Caine. It turns out Caine has developed super powers as well - he has telekinesis - and has a raging case of megalomania with a burning need to be in charge and to be the most powerful of anyone in Fallout Alley. Gone follows Sam's struggles to establish some order in the town and protect the kids from Caine, while Hunger focuses on the next logical step: when you have a finite amount of space and over 300 kids to feed, food starts running out fast. Caine is still trying to wrest control of Fallout Alley from Sam, but has to deal with the crippling effects of hunger on himself and his Coates Academy minions, plus the ever present pull of the mysterious "Darkness," an entity that lives below the ground in Perdido Beach and seems intent on killing all of the humans.

These are big, action packed books, with some really great characters. Grant has absolutely nailed some of these characters; Astrid, Sam's girlfriend, has a little brother named Pete who is autistic. I absolutely love how Grant portrays Astrid's conflicting feelings about her brother: she absolutely loves him and wants to protect him, but his lack of communication and stubbornness drive her up a wall sometimes. I have a younger autistic brother myself, and that is exactly how I feel about him sometimes. However, I'm also worried that Grant is going to drift into the autistic savant trope with Little Pete - Pete is extremely un-communicative, yet he may have the most powerful superpower in all of Fallout Alley.

Also in the first book I was getting extremely frustrated by how roles in the town were being apparently divided by gender: all of the girls were extremely nurturing and caring while the boys were off having the adventures (Astrid was sometimes along for the adventure, but she was there more for her brain than taking part in anything exciting). The second book introduced a little more variety in the girls - there's even an African American lesbian with superpowers - but more could be done.

While I definitely enjoyed the first two books, I really wonder how the drama and tension is going to last for six books. Right now it feels more like this should have been a trilogy - after all, at the end of Hunger they do figure out some things to do about the food situation, but a ten mile radius, some of which is desert or rocks or ocean, doesn't provide a lot of space for growing food for 300+ people. But I'm anxiously waiting for the next book, which comes out in May 2010.
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