Sophie Page is almost relieved to be near death: Her body has been so ravaged by lymphoma that every move she makes causes her pain, and she’d rather that her family would be out in the world living than staying at her bedside, watching her slowly die. Just as she takes her final breath, though, time seems to stop, a swirling vortex appears at the foot of her bed...and engulfs her.
On the other side of the world, Declan Murphy has been cornered in a Galway alley by two huge Russian thugs. He attempts to return the box he was paid to steal, but to no avail. Just as he’s about to be executed...a swirling vortex appears behind him, and something pulls him through.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli Arat Erez is headed down a tunnel, headed towards Egypt and her Palestinian fiance...until a cave-in occurs, and with it, yet another mysterious vortex.
They—along with a boy from Switzerland (Nico), one from New Delhi (Zain), and a young girl from Japan (Yosh)—wake up in an unfamiliar, empty hospital. When they eventually find their way outside, they discover something even more disturbing: There’s been some sort of disaster. Nico recognizes the landscape as Upton, New York—where his scientist father works on the heavy ion collider—but it’s clear that something terrible has happened: The asphalt is buckled and cracked; cars are blocking the road, rusting and empty; vegetation is beginning to work its way into the buildings; there’s no cell, radio or television reception; and they appear to be completely alone.
As it has a number of similarities—a rotating focus on various teenagers suddenly left alone in a mysteriously empty and hugely dangerous world—Michelle Gagnon’s Strangelets is likely to appeal to fans of Michael Grant’s Gone series. As in Gone, the characters have to decide who will lead and who will follow, to work towards an understanding of what caused their predicament while also finding a safe haven and, above all, to survive their environment and each other. Like Gone, the premise will require some suspension of disbelief, and both books are far more plot-driven than character-driven, though the multinational cast of Strangelets makes for a broader variety of perspectives, belief systems and outlooks.
Similarities aside, I enjoyed Strangelets far more than I enjoyed Gone; while I see why the storyline appeals to so many readers, the first book in the Gone series was enough for me, but if Michelle Gagnon writes a sequel to Strangelets, I’ll read it. Not because I’m particularly attached to the characters, but because I enjoyed the ride.
Bonus points: Even though her cancer is suddenly, miraculously in remission, Sophie is realistically weak from her months and months in bed, gets exhausted easily and needs help getting around. (Unlike the main character in Stung, who is sprinting all over the place the day after coming out of a years-long coma.)
Double bonus points: What with all of the talk about Purgatory—not to mention a cameo by a bear!—I was surprised that there was no mention, veiled or otherwise, of Lost, but I loved that the characters—Declan and Sophie in particular—actively try to avoid Horror Movie Mistakes...which makes the moment that Yosh channels Carol Anne Freeling all the more creepy.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.