I really didn’t expect this one to go wrong. The whole thing was right up my alley: a whole bunch of kids suddenly have the run of the land after every older teen & adult vanishes. They also start to discover that some of them have strange new powers like shooting fire out of their hands or super-healing abilities. It’s survivalist, it’s paranormal, it’s Lord of the Flies meets Heroes but it sucked.
I know my survivalism, okay? I grew up repeatedly reading Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom and watching Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson on repeat. Survivalist lit is one of my favourite genres and I know when it’s done right. And I’m far from being the only one; we live in an age where a zombie apocalypse survival plan is something we have all considered mapping out. And some of us have even done it (*ahem*). I know my survivalism, I like my survivalism, and Gone was not an adequate survivalist novel.
Gone is 560 pages long; given that the first chapter jumps straight into the disappearing adults and doesn’t fuck around with setting the scene, you would think that at least half of these 560 pages would be dedicated to these kids actually figuring out how to survive in an adultless and lawless community. Sadly we don’t get to see nearly as much survivalism as we should. In the end the main focus of the story is who is going to be the leader and also ohmygod we have superpowers. And that’s a good addition the plot and all, but the survivalist aspect is so much more unique and interesting. I wanted to know more about the girl struggling to run the day care. I wanted to know more about the teenager trying to be a doctor with nothing but a Grey’s Anatomy to get her by. I wanted to know more about the kid who decided to take over the McDonald’s. I just want more survivalism dammit!
Even when I did get my fix of survivalism, it was a struggle to read about these kids doing it wrong. I know that they’re all fourteen or younger, I know that it’s the whole point to read about them getting it wrong, but I swear I had more survivalist knowledge than that even at age fourteen. Has none of these kids read Robinson Crusoe? Day of the Triffids? Anything? Okay sure, pretty much all the survivalist books I read involved a desert island, but the basics are still applicable.
It was just so painful, especially when no one went and rescued small children. Right at the beginning I realized that there would be nurseries and homes where small children would be left alone and would be in danger. I waited for the kids to go rescue them. They didn’t. They rescue one nursery full of kids because of a fire. That’s it.
I couldn’t handle it. I was hating every moment of it. Just knowing that these (fictional!) kids were condemning these helpless (fictional!) babies to death by not taking action was really affecting me. I actually had to read a few chapters while simultaneously superimposing myself into the story and imagining how I would form a search and rescue team. No lie, this happened:
It’s not as if they don’t think about it: they do.
“Preschoolers in Perdido Beach mostly went to Barbara’s Day Care, […] Sam wondered if they were OK, the littles down at Barbara’s. Probably. Not his responsibility.”
Well if not your responsibility, whose?! That’s the thing about Sam, our main character Sam: he’s the typical hero who doesn’t want to be. He has a heroic streak but he doesn’t want to be the leader. And honestly, fuck him. I’m cool with a coming of age story, I like a hero who has to learn his own strength and shoulders responsibility, but with Sam it’s all me me me me me. He doesn’t want to lead because, in a nutshell, he is insecure. The story goes into more depth but that’s pretty much the baseline; he’s insecure. He doesn’t think he should have the responsibility, so he cowers away from it. No one else is thinking about babies trapped in houses. Love interest Astrid should: she’s a surrogate mother to her autistic brother, sure she resents him for indirectly lobbing the concept of responsibility in her face at the oh-so-young age of fourteen, but she’s in that mindset now. She didn’t think about the kids, no one does, not even the girl who ends up taking over the one daycare. But she’s got her own problems. Sam thought about the kids, but does nothing.
It’s five days later when the gang finally stumbles on a house that contains a dead child. Dead because of their inaction. Sam blames himself, because he’s absolutely to blame here…
“The family weren’t friends, or even acquaintances, but still, he should have thought to check on the baby. That should have been his first thought. He should have remembered, but he hadn’t.”
…but after learning this valuable lesson, does he do and look for other babies on the off change some may have survived? NO HE DOES NOT.
It took great strength to remind myself that Sam is a child. It took so much to remember that it’s the whole point of the story. Well, one of the points of the story anyway. But it was just so hard for me to read this when they kept getting things so wrong in a survivalist setting. And kids dying, man. It would have been so easy to go rescue them. They didn’t need to die. Think of all the household pets who got stuck inside, too. Dead dogs man. Dead dogs who didn’t need to die.
That’s really what pissed me off with this whole book: not enough survivalism and shitty survivalism at that. The rest of the book failed to make up for it. There were too many characters to allow each other the characterisation they deserved. A few of them would have been pretty damn good if they had the time to develop fully. And the side-plot come main-plot with the superpowers and everyone fighting for the title of supreme leader just didn’t do it for me. I didn’t care enough about the characters to find an interest in their struggles or their feelings, and it doesn’t help that as I get older I am less sympathetic towards the struggles of young teens. The main characters and villains all felt so fucking selfish. Which is mainly because they were selfish; they’re kids!
Maybe I would have loved this when I was fourteen. Maybe if I didn’t know the first thing about survivalism, and didn’t give a shit about it anyway. I could probably relate to what the characters go through: insecurities, loss of parents, unwillingness to accept responsibility, the overwhelming temptation of power…
Maybe. But the fact is I read this at 24. I did not enjoy this at 24. And I honestly think that if I was in the novel, even at age fourteen, I would have done it all so much better than the novel kids. I would have been a great leader. Or if not a leader, I swear I would have at least remembered the kids.
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