Lies (by Michael Grant)

25 10 2010

What Numbers lacked in excitement and suspense, Lies, the 3rd installment in Michael Grant’s Gone series, has in bucketloads. Undoubtedly, anyone reading this book will not be new to the series, and already knows what to expect. They will not be disappointed: action, fire, freaks and normals. Once again, it’s all there.

The initial idea of the Gone series is reminiscent of such classics as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Stephen King’s The Stand. In this case: what happens to kids when they are thrown together in a bubble of horrors and are forced to be completely self-sufficient? Will they show sympathy towards each other? Will they help each other? Will they fight amongst each other? Will everything turn to complete chaos or will certain rules be put in place and will we see a society based on certain norms and values? Add to that a supernatural component (‘Humans’ vs ‘Freaks’) and you have a potential explosive mix. And exploding it does… a lot.

In Gone all the adults miraculously ‘poofed’ and everyone under 15 ended up clueless, some with newly discovered powers, others with powers they already showed some signs of before the Big Poof (like protagonist-hero Sam). The battle between seemingly ‘good powers’ (Sam’s) vs. the evils of kids such as Caine (the only other four bar, as Diana, another Coates Academy kid[1], calls it) became part of the formula Michael Grant uses in all of the Gone books (obviously, this being a 7-part series, Grant will have to be careful here because such a formula can easily turn stale…).

In Hunger, life in the FAYZ (Fall Out Youth Zone) became even more precarious as the kids had to deal with the constant hunger (food shortage became the main issue, until Albert, the kid-entrepreneur figured out a system called… errr…capitalism) as well as the numerous threats of the supernatural kind (mutant worms, whip-hand boy, etc  – yes, it’s all quite over-the-top, but you have to let yourself be carried away by this).

In Lies, things have really gotten out of control: more kids are getting drunk, smoke and get high etc. (boredom? reality hitting home?). The hunger is still an ever-present concept. Some of the kids have really tried to organize life and installed a Town Council (Astrid, Sam, Edilio,…); others use scare tactics and destruction to get their way (Zil and the Human Crew).  As such life in the FAYZ is divided even more. What is new in Lies (besides a bunch of new characters) is that kids who used to be on the same side, like Sam and Astrid, start to fight amongst each other. Sometimes because they are convinced they are doing the right thing; sometimes because they are fed up with the responsibilities everyone has bestowed on them and just want to be left alone. One of the most intriguing characters here is actually (Mother) Mary Terrafino, the main caretaker of the Littles (daycare) in Perdido Beach. Even before the FAYZ came into existence, this ‘normal’ girl had issues aplenty (eating disorder, depression, etc.). Now everyone looks to her to take care of the babies and toddlers who suddenly have no parents anymore.

Things in the FAYZ get even more paranormal-religious overtones as the kids now also have to deal with the  Prophetess, Orsay, and her go-between Nerezza,  who seem to say that death is the way to escape the FAYZ (embrace the Big 1-5, rather than resisting it).  Also, old characters suspected dead and buried, turn up, scaring the living daylights out of the kids: Drake and his whip-hand, Brittney… Have they returned for real, or is all of this a lie? When your title is Lies, obviously your plan is to make your readers doubt everything they read. Come to think of it, we are starting to get glimpses of life outside of the FAYZ too… but again, can we trust this? Or is all of that also just a lie? The answer to this question is never given, but since Lies is only the 3rd installment in a 7-part series, I’m sure (hope) we’ll get some of the answers in the next few books. The next installment, due in 2011, will be called Plague, and considering some of the protagonists already seem to be suffering from flu-symptoms I guess this is a foreshadowing of things to come.  I hope that we haven’t seen the end of Mary Terrafino, but you never know.  I also hope we don’t get a cop-out excuse for what lies beyond the FAYZ (very tricky).

The Gone series reads like a train: it’s thrilling, suspenseful, action-packed and sometimes completely over-the-top, but this makes it so appealing to otherwise reluctant readers – most specifically 14- to 16-year-old boys who seem to be left out as a readership amongst the abundance of YA-fiction novels these days. I guess an apt comparison is Stephenie Meyer, obviously not in terms of the actual content of the books (although both share the supernatural aspect), but Stephenie Meyer managed something almost impossible: getting otherwise completely reluctant readers to pick up a book, and then another one, and yet another one… In a way, Michael Grant has done the same thing, but for a different readership.

You don’t read this for the fine literary skills the author displays, you read this for the plot, the excitement and the mystery that slowly unfolds. Character development is there too and I do hope Grant can pick this up in the remaining books. The problem I see here is having too many characters that need a back story, that need character evolution etc. Considering Lies introduced us to some more characters, this will be quite a challenge. If Grant manages to go back to some of the original protagonists and explain their dilemmas, doubts and ideas, this series could be lifted up quite a bit beyond mere mystery and suspense.

[1] Coates Academy is the academy at Perdido Beach where parents almost locked away their troublesome kids before the FAYZ.



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