Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor
Last year, I named Michael Grant’s Gone as one of the best books of 2008. Gone focused on a group of kids in a small town in California. One day without warning, every person over the age of fourteen suddenly vanishes and a mysterious, impenetrable barrier appears around the town. Gone was filled with a pervasive sense of mystery. What happened to all the adults and why? Why did this barrier suddenly appear? Why have some of the kids started to develop strange new abilities and powers? Gone answers some of these questions but leaves others—and rightfully so, since Grant intends to publish this as a six-book series. It is dark and twisted and creepy—and proof that young adult books can be written with intelligence and finesse.
Hunger, the just-released second book in the series, does not revel in mystery the way Gone did. But this time around, the kids have more immediate things to worry about. Hunger picks up about three months after the adults have disappeared. Most of the food in town is gone. As kids get hungrier, tensions run higher. There is a growing rivalry between the kids who have powers and the kids who don’t. And to top it off, a mysterious entity known as “the Darkness” has been communicating with some of the kids telepathically, trying to get them to do its bidding.
What Hunger lacks in mystery, it makes up for in darkness and brutality. Grant ups the stakes for his characters this time around, putting them into more violent and dangerous situations. Beginning midway through the book, you realize that you don’t know who among the large supporting cast will make it to the end of the book—and who won’t.
There are a lot of influences playing into Gone and Hunger; the first, and most obvious, is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Like Flies, these books focus on a group of children left to take care of themselves without adults and a power struggle plays out. Unlike Flies, however, the Gone series is not primarily an allegory. Instead, the kids in the Gone books are flesh-and-blood characters, behaving just like real kids. Instead of eating the perishable food and focusing on freezing as much as possible so it doesn’t go bad, the kids initially eat all the candy and junk food, allowing much of the meat and vegetables to spoil—leading to many of the problems they experience in Hunger. Sounds stupid, right? But it also sounds like the way I would have reacted if I had been stranded without my parents at fourteen.
Grant does a great job creating a large, diverse cast-of-characters. At the center of the book is Sam, a smart, resourceful 15-year-old who becomes the kids’ reluctant leader. Sam is nearly at his wit’s end acting as surrogate parent to the kids. Then there’s Caine, a wealthy, arrogant kid from a nearby boarding school who is intent on usurping authority from Sam—and as Sam becomes more and more frazzled, this starts to look more and more likely. The kids from the different schools are set up to parallel one another, and it would be easy to lump the public school kids in together as “good” and the private school kids as “bad.” But Grant’s writing is more nuanced than this, and most of the characters are complex enough to have both good and bad traits. Sam may be smart and courageous, but he is also self-doubting and reluctant to share responsibility. Caine may be arrogant and cruel, but he is also scared and vulnerable.
We also see the conflict between the kids who have powers and the kids who don’t intensify significantly here, becoming more of a primary focus than it was in the first novel. Many of the kids who don’t have powers resent those who do, and many of the kids who do would rather just go back to being normal.
Overall, this is a fun and exciting read, more thought-provoking than many of the other young adult novels I’ve read recently. It’s also one of the few young adult novels I’ve read that could easily appeal to both males and females. Grant also does a great job of weaving in backstory, so it’s not necessary to read Gone before you read Hunger—although it will certainly help to fill in the gaps. And given the peril Grant subjects his characters to in this book, I can only imagine the horrors that await them in the next four. Part of me dreads this; after two books, I’ve become rather attached to Sam and company. But with Grant’s vivid, engaging writing style, I know that no matter what happens, I will enjoy the ride.