Book Review: The Departed

Book 1 of the Departed Series

By Kristy Cooper

The world wakes up to find that three hundred thousand people have simply vanished overnight.  Where did they go?  Speculation is rife, but no-one can explain it; the scientists are scratching their heads.

That is, until an evangelist reveals the answer.

Gwen’s friend is one of those to go missing, and Gwen is desperately worried for her lost companion.  Is she dead?  If not, where is she?  She is left to wallow in the unknown, until an email pings through.  From her friend.  She’s alive!  Or is she?

The world is gripped by the only logical explanation, and great divides appear as people ready themselves for what is coming.  But is it really as it’s been told?  Gwen has ideas to the contrary, but to uncover the truth, she must put herself in great danger.  But she’d do anything for her friend, wouldn’t she?”

This is a young adult story set against a pre-apocalyptic back-drop – the end is coming!  It’s a really interesting premise, and one that I think has lots of legs; hence this is the first part of a series.  The characters are classically YA without having too much about them, but there are some interesting side-characters too.  I particularly liked the dynamic between Gwen’s parents – very thoughtful.  Overall I enjoyed this, but it didn’t captivate me, though that is most likely because the genre is not mine.  If you like the younger end of the YA spectrum, then I highly recommend this book.

Set in modern-day (or just around the corner) America, a small town wakes to find a host of its inhabitants having just disappeared.  It is peculiar, particularly for our protagonist, Gwen, whose best friend isdepartedbookcover one of the departed.  But it is made all the stranger when it turns out that three hundred thousand people have just vanished across the world.  An evangelist gives a story that the population of Earth can grab hold of, but Gwen is dubious.  And so we follow Gwen, and another friend Isaiah, as they conduct their own investigations into this strange phenomenon.  Suffice to say that danger is quick to catch up with them.

The book is written in first person, told exclusively from Gwen’s perspective.  This method seems to work quite well in this case, as we uncover things at the same pace as Gwen does.  This meant being trapped in the mind of a very young adult (just coming up to sixteen I think), which is okay.  Gwen is thoughtful and intelligent, which makes her interesting, and though she strays into YA type meanderings – which is to be expected for someone aged sixteen – it is not overbearing.  There is a sensible mix of character play and story development.

Having said this, I was not captivated by Gwen – her problems didn’t really register as such for me.  And although one can appreciate her bravery in acting as she does, I am not won over.  I enjoyed her tale, but it is not one that I am desperate to come back to.  That, though, must surely be a taste thing.

But there is much to like in this story, and the idea behind the departed is a good one.  Now, I am aware that ‘missing people’ as a story idea has been used a number of times, but though I’m not well versed in this blueprint, I am going to stick my neck out and suggest that this is quite an original interpretation.  It certainly felt original to me.  And though we reach some sort of equilibrium by the end of book one (this book), there are lots of unanswered questions and a whole host of potential problems still lurking in the shadows.  So plenty of scope and promise.  Not that there aren’t interesting developments in this book itself (which there certainly are), but you get the sense that the major events are still to come.  The key antagonists certainly seem amply crazy to make the future path very interesting indeed.

But that leads me to perhaps my only real criticism of the book – its ending.  It is all rather sudden and open-ended, and though we need the threads to stay loose so that we can weave the rest of the series into it, this feels a little too loose.  There is no real tying up, and though this can be admirably seen as a way to lead the reader into the next book – and it probably will work – my view is that it undermines this as a standalone novel.

However, thinking about this more, if I were more invested in Gwen’s future, then I doubt this would be a problem for me because I would be desperate to read on.  But as I’ve said, though I found Gwen’s tale interesting, I was not captivated and so I would have liked some closure.  A personal point, so if this is your sort of book, then read on!

Overall I think that this is an interesting and very well executed young adult novel.  Painted against the backdrop of a really interesting “departed” premise, there are good characters and some really interesting secondary character dynamics.  Plus, there is great promise in the series to come.  Recommended.

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