Fear - Michael  Grant

I feel like I've already written this review. We're five books into the Gone series, and I feel like my opinion is exactly the same on each one. Look, you want to know what I think of this book? Here you go. You want more?  I got more. You still don't understand how I feel?  This should clear it up for you. You don't like any of those reviews? That's okay - I wrote another one. This isn't to say that they all feel like the same book - they all have a distinctive plot that never feels like a rehash, there's a noticeable progression of an overarching plot, and the tone gets progressively darker throughout the book. But my opinion seems to blend together when I think about them individually. They all have well-rendered characters, they all have a nicely structured plot, and their darkness makes them all a unique reading experience. The one thing that changes from book to book is the quality of the prose, and in this one, it's top notch, Hunger-level quality.

So I'll take this opportunity to discuss something else, instead. This book, if you haven't read any of its reviews, is distinctly a boy book, very much commercial lit. I've been interested in the type of books that adults give to teenagers lately, and commercial lit is one of those types, the other being classics. (And I'll do a rant about classics once I finish The Good Earth) I've previously ranted about a bad commercial lit book - in my review of I Am Number Four, and since there's nothing else to say here, I figured I'd take this opportunity to talk about a book that does commercial lit well. Because really, Grant is a master of the genre. He manages to evade nearly every single mistake that typical boy books make, which is why I feel that if you're going to give anything to reluctant readers, this is your best bet - this and Mike Mullin's Ashfall.


One mistake that a lot of boy books make, that I didn't really go into in my review of I Am Number Four, stems from a desire to make the book's appeal universal: they try to create a protagonist that every teenage boy everywhere can relate to.  Sound familiar?  These books handle it with about as much grace as Twilight did, making the protagonist very bland. They tend to be very into girls, they use painful slang, and they're otherwise entirely boring. Grant averts that here and still manages to make the book's appeal universal by creating an ensemble cast full of different personalities so that virtually everyone will have someone to relate to. Sam has a few of the typical boy book hero characteristics (he can be a bit of a Gary Stu at times, especially early on), but Grant doesn't try to write him as someone that everyone everywhere will be identical to. And this also opens the book's audience to girls, since the girls are just as interesting as the boys, making the appeal genuinely universal, rather than just universal to all boys. Whether the reluctant reader is shy or outgoing, sarcastic or genuine, funny or series, strong or weak, black or white or Hispanic or Asian, gay or straight, boy or girl, there is someone for him/her to relate to here - meaning there's someone for you.


(I'm totally Lana, by the way. I'm slightly Sanjit, and I've got a touch of Astrid, but mostly Lana.)


Another mistake that Grant averts, similar to the one above, is that he doesn't simplify his world for his readers, and he doesn't assume that they'll overlook logical fallacies. One of the most baffling reading experiences of my life was when I read Michael Vey Prisoner of Cell 25. The science felt like it was meant to be real, but over and over again, something that made no sense happened, without so much as a lampshade. Laws were ignored. Statistics were given to us that were blatantly impossible. It just plain out didn't make sense - the world was a simple one, where only the story mattered. But Grant seems to know that teenagers are smarter than that. All the characters are acutely fleshed out here, and every one of them has a complex character arc because we live in a complex world. He acknowledges the need for food and water for the survival of the kids in the FAYZ, and he deals with it in a realistic way. He doesn't overlook the results of kids developing supernatural powers among those that don't have them. None of his characters are truly good or truly evil; they're all human, no matter their role in the story. Everybody knows that the world we live in is complex; and really, why would anyone want to read a simplified version of it? Where's the honesty in that? Where's the value? Realistic complexity makes reading more interesting for everyone, no matter who the audience, and Grant doesn't once forget that.


And, finally, he doesn't make the plot stand for itself. This is the most common singular mistake among commercial lit; they try to imitate an action movie so that boys feel like they're in familiar territory. There's no character development, there's no exploration of themes, there's no honesty, there's just Stuff Happening. This always seemed like a mistake in getting kids to stick around after they've read one book; why should they, when they can get the same thing from movies? I suppose I don't need to tell you that Grant doesn't need to do that. I've pretty much demonstrated this before, but Grant fleshes out his characters. They all have character arcs, and there are scenes devoted solely to those arcs. I can't imagine reluctant readers being bored by it, because there's so much going on in spite of it. And the interactions are so well-written that sooner or later, they'll have to get invested in it. And then they'll see something that they don't see in action movies, something truly new that will make them want to read more books. There's an extremely strong plot here, but the characters are what truly invested me in it.


Before I make Grant out as this god among demons, I'll point out that the series does have its flaws. Grant uses some pretty painful slang in the earlier books of the series, slang being one of the things that annoys me about commercial lit. He also uses some pretty cheap tricks to generate suspense, like having Drake be an unrealistically good fighter or [spoiler]making him entirely unkillable.[/spoiler] But they're very minor flaws; this is an expertly crafted, expertly executed series with an entirely universal appeal that I'd recommend to everyone.