Gone by Michael Grant.
It's been awhile since I found a book that made me stay up reading til 3am and go to work groggy the next day because I simply can't put it down. Gone is definitely that book. (see the end of the review for the downside to this)
Gone is the story of what becomes of a small California beach town when all adults and older teens suddenly disappear. Bullies run amok, older kids are left raising younger kids and trying to prevent the destruction of their fragile little society. Some kids have special powers that others either envy or fear. Animals have started mutating and attacking humans. Food is running out. There is no way to call for help and no escape. How many will die?
Confession: This book is traumatizing me.
I won't give any spoilers, but it's already made me cry, feel hurt, angry, disgusted, horrified, exhausted, hopeful, and exhausted again when I saw there are FIVE books in the series. I don't know how much more of this I can take.
Gone starves you, beats you, breaks your bones, and makes you walk through hot deserts hoping there will be water in sight. Michael Grant isn't afraid to do horrible, despicable things to his characters in the name of plot. I both admire and fear him at once. It's the mark of a great writer to make you empathize this much with his characters. And there are so many characters. Characters you once hated, shown in a different light, you feel sorry for, you begin to sympathize with. You don't want anyone to die. And then they do. (I won't tell you who or how many.)
If I'd known some of the things in this book before I'd read it, I might not have picked it up. I used to work at a daycare and now I teach art to teens. To me this is a horrifying book, because it's all happening to children, and a lot of it seems chillingly true-to-life. It's very much the Lord of the Flies crossed with Stephen King that Goodreads says it is.
"Worse than the Hunger Games?" you say. Yes, because those were older children, a select group who were chosen, knew what they were up against, and some of them were trained to fight. The teens and younger kids in Gone are caught completely unaware, have lived a pretty comfortable life with no big bad government butting in, and aren't at all trained in warfare. Most of them don't even know how to care for themselves without supervision, and that's what's so heartbreaking. That's what makes me want to enter the world of the book and take care of them. But, of course, I'd disappear.
So, why am I still reading this book? Because it's good. It's written well, it's invoking emotions (maybe too many of them), it's stripped-down language without over-description, which really works for the type of story it is. It's an interesting storyline that's very compelling with well-developed characters, and well-maintained multiple points of view.
I'll echo one thing I said earlier that counts against it as a series. It's emotionally exhausting. There is no break, just constant action. That's why I don't want to put the book down. I might've said it a little tongue-in-cheek earlier, but I really don't know how much more of this I can take. I don't know if after I finish this first book I'll be able to pick up the second one.
I had the same experience with James Dashner's The Maze Runner. I got so tired of the dread hanging over the characters, the constant feeling of claustrophobia, that I just didn't feel like going back into that world again. That series only has three books. This one has five.
Would I encourage you to read Gone? Sure! Because you can decide for yourself if the author's pace, style, and plot is something you like. I wouldn't recommend it for young/immature readers, though.