"I want that reader to forget everything else going on around them and become completely engrossed." This is what Michael Grant has posted on his website for this groundbreaking young adult series. Why groundbreaking, you ask?
Because it doesn't pull punches. I am far from the first to compare it to Lord of the Flies, and even Battle Royale, but these comments are well deserved.
My first contact with Gone was made in the winter of 2006, as I packed brand new copies into cardboard boxes to be sent to middle grade classrooms all over the Seattle public school district. To be honest, I hated the covers. I had glanced over the back description and thought, "These kids look pretty well dressed and fed for being caught in the middle of an apocalypse." I still feel that way, as would anyone who reads Hunger. Irritated by something as superficial as a cover, I disregarded the book entirely.
At the Whatcom Children's Literature Conference in February 2013, I had the immense pleasure of meeting Katherine Applegate for the first time. Many of the teachers and librarians (of which I am neither and thus a minority at the con) were there for her newest children's book, The One and Only Ivan, which had just received the Newberry Award. I was there for the Animorphs series, hoping desperately for a casual reference to Jake, Cassie, Rachel, Marco, Tobias, and Ax. What I got was a confession and shocking realization - K.A. Applegate is the pen name of the Katherine Applegate/Michael Grant super writer team, and Animorphs was a fun departure from their romance novel career and a way to make some cash. It was a little bit like Batman saving you from the clutches of the Joker and saying, "Sorry, kid. Commissioner Gordon pays me for each person I save, so it's really no big deal." Oh.
But this did make me pay some extra attention to Michael Grant when he stood up to speak. I had no idea that Katherine Applegate's husband (I'm sure he loves being thought of that way, like Stephen King's wife... wait, is Stephen King married? I have no clue) was writer himself, and the co-writer of Animorphs no less. I was discouraged. But then, something amazing happened. He had nothing but callous and self-deprecating things to say. This is a man who goes into middle schools and tells the kids, "For the love of god, don't look up to me. Don't admire me. Don't ever want to be like me."
This is a writer who claims no heroism, and I was completely and utterly smitten. Michael Grant is kind of a jerk, and he knows it, and he owns it, thus becoming one of my very favorite kinds of people who walk this earth. Like his bestselling bookseries, this man pulls no punches, and that is why the series succeeds.
It was reported back from the middle schools to whom I packed all those boxes of books for, that Gone was a hit. It never stayed on the shelf for long, the copies got tons of love, and even reluctant readers (the favorite buzz word of the district's literacy coaches) couldn't put it down.
And after seeing Michael Grant talk, I wanted to give Gone a try. Especially after he read a particularly haunting passage regarding a boy named Hunter, a rope, and a lot of hungry kids.
One final preface: I love horror. Not gore for the sake of gore, mind you, but when the appropriate variables are taken into consideration and twisted just so, that the mind of the reader goes to a place that they were not prepared for. That is what I love,
And that is what the Gone series delivers.
This six book series is cohesive, fast-paced, and never boring. You can pick up the first one and read it in a day, if you're of a mind to. I suggest having the next five handy, or otherwise living near a 24 hour bookstore. I couldn't put them down. Whether a reluctant reader or a young adult, if you enjoyed the action and darkness of The Hunger Games and Maze Runner series, you will definitely get into Gone.