The premise for this book is fascinating, but the execution was clunky to say the least. It took me a while to like any of the characters, and once I did, that was only a small handful. For me, it’s easy to swallow any story, no matter how farfetched, if I care about the characters. I liked Sam, our reluctant hero, overall, but he does a few things that make me want to slap him. For instance, he gives his girlfriend the position of “Look Out” and doesn’t allow her to have a gun because he “loves her” and “doesn’t want her to live with the thought of hurting someone.” So, you’re willing to have her trapped in a bell tower with no means of defending herself? Well, aren’t you just the loving boyfriend!
The girlfriend in question, Astrid, although smart, seems to get in the way a lot more than anything else. More often than not, she’s in some kind of trouble and needs Sam to rescue her. All she seems to do is take care of her little brother, drop SAT words, and fill in the role of romantic interest for the lead. She can occasionally provide some insight, but overall, I found her rather useless, though not nearly as much as Quinn, Sam’s supposed best friend. All Quinn does is complain, agree to ridiculous demands to save his own skin, and wimp out when he should be backing Sam up. He has a few moments where he isn’t a whiney little brat but they are few and far between. He made me want to punch him in the face repeatedly.
The only other characters I liked aside from Sam were Edilio and Lana – both are smart and loyal, willing to fight for their own lives and the lives of others. Edilio is handy and willing to step up to the plate – whether he has to connect a fire hose, drive, pull someone from a burning building, dig graves or fend off wild animals. Lana manages to keep herself and her dog alive in the desert for almost a week before meeting up with Sam and his friends, most of those days spent in pain and terror. She’s tough and a bit of a smartass, and I like that about her. She has spunk, but she’s also willing to help where she is needed.
I didn’t like the writing style at all. The first chapter felt like a race to get all the important details out in the open, with kids shouting out different things like, “Oh my God, I can’t get a signal!” and “The internet is down!” While it got those specifics out of the way, it felt rushed and clumsy. I would have preferred that Sam, Astrid and Quinn slowly learned these things themselves. It would have given the reader more time to get absorbed in what happened, rather than having everything thrown at them at once. I also hated that the climax was divided into chunks focusing on different characters. We’d be in the middle of a huge fight scene, and then suddenly cut to the day care or the church, completely disconnecting the reader from the action important to the climax. It may have been a tactic to create suspense, but all it did was annoy me.
The novel could have also used some editing. There were sentences where unnecessary words were repeated, such as, “Orc was a glowering thug of an eighth grader, a mountain of fat and muscle who even scared ninth graders.” (p. 7) That sentence could have been reworded to sound better. Also, the author describes the smoke of a burning building as having “a sourness to it, like smoke plus curdled milk.” (p. 39) The smoke smelled like smoke? Really?! I never would have guessed that. The author also mixes up fast food chains. When McDonalds plays such a pivotal role in this dystopian society, you would think the author would use the proper terminology. He has a character ask for a “Biggie” fry, which is a Wendy’s size, not McDonalds. I may just be being a little nitpicky here, but it irks me. I really hate that we are constantly reminded of Edilio’s race. We get it, he’s Hispanic, from Honduras and not Mexico – but please, continue to call him Mexican, everyone in the novel.
Lastly, the vocabulary of the characters in this book is ridiculous. I feel like Michael Grant was trying way too hard to use current teenage slang and failing miserably. I know these kids are from Southern California and they’re surfers, but do they really need to say “Brah” all the time? Or at all? He also uses the phrase “off the hook” to describe someone getting a power drill to the face. I’ve only ever heard that used to describe something good like a fun party or a great beat in a song. Then, the author switches from this kind of language to words like “insouciantly” which I, as a college graduate, haven’t seen before. I get it that this was from Astrid’s point of view, but she was using this term to describe the boy about to attack her. Even a genius isn’t going to use big words when she’s scared.
The story overall was decent. I really liked the Lord of the Flies take on a modern town with no adults. I could even handle the addition of supernatural powers, but things progressively got weirder from there – such as talking coyotes and tentacles growing out of severed appendages. I know there’s a dark force behind the monstrosities occurring in the society, but come on. Can’t we keep it somewhat within reason? I guess everything served a purpose in the end, it just had a jumbled, awkward way of getting there.
If Lord of the Flies involved kids with supernatural powers, took place in a small town with modern amenities (electricity, cars, running water, etc.) and was written by a much less talented author, it would be this book. Still, despite all of my complaints, something about the story makes me want to continue with the series, so it gets a slightly higher rating than it would have as a stand-alone novel.