This was the book my library chose to have as our Teen Book Club pick for the summer. It was my suggestion, both because it’s an awesome book and because we had multiple copies in our library. I was supposed to have a grand total of *one* teen show up today, and instead I got *zero.* Sadness.
This was one of my favorite books in high school, enough that I read the sequels, which are weird AF. (My suggestion: skip them, and read the Ender’s Shadow books instead.) I got to read it in college for my “The Coming of Age in a Science Fiction Novel” class, so that was a nice bonus as well. And I’ve noticed that it pops up in some high school English classes as well. So, what makes this book so good?
Our main plot follows Ender Wiggin, a Third. This title is a big deal. Families are limited to two children, but his siblings were both brilliant but not quite what the government wanted that they commissioned another one. His brother Peter is too violent, and his sister Valentine is too gentle. Ender was supposed to be a mix of the two. (Orson Scott Card exercised a lot of restraint in only mentioning religion a few times. Looking at his other series, that must have been very hard for him.) The government is looking for children to train to battle the next alien invasion of what the main populace calls “Buggers.” Potential children are implanted with a monitor that lets an adult somewhere, well, monitor everything about the child. The story begins with Ender having his monitor removed at the age of six, and everyone assumes he has missed the cut for Battle School. Local bullies take advantage of the fact that he is no longer protected, and gang up on him. Ender beats the shit out of the leader with some dirty fighting and goes home. Recruiters for the Battle School show up, offering Ender a position at the school. Behavior after the monitor is removed is key, and Ender’s fight was important. Not the fact that he had or won the fight, but why he did what he did. He beat the shit out of his bully not not only end the current fight, but to end all future fights. And so Ender goes to Battle School.
From the beginning, the adults are grooming Ender to be their Hail Mary pass. It’s him or nothing, and we get to see that in the beginning of every chapter. They are messing with Ender and the status quo at every chance they get in order to make him “stronger” and “better.” Ender lives up to and past their expectations, but at what cost? He has no childhood, and his psyche is messed up. Ender is not a violent person by nature, he never wants to hurt anyone, but he will defend himself and is forced to often. He is lied to and is pushed beyond what has been accepted as the rules. He isolated and he is not allowed the chance to rely on anyone. He has no peers.
It has been said that this is a science fiction novel for people who don’t like science fiction. I mean, it has plenty of science fiction, but it focuses on behavior more than anything else. What will Ender do when pushed beyond his limits? How far will the adults go in trying to break their last hope? Everyone has been lied to, everyone sometimes feel like they’re being pushed too far. Most people remember being treated as a child, even past the point where they should have been. And I haven’t even gone into what Peter and Valentine are doing for most of the book! They deliberately go about creating false identities online to change the course of global politics. And they succeed! A 10 year-old and 12 year-old (admittedly super geniuses) change the way the world thinks. Valentine takes on the online persona of a radical, spouting opinions that are not her own but are meant to gain attention, and she’s disappointed and disheartened to watch her father agree with the ridiculous points her character is making. She is so far advanced of the normal population in the realm of politics, but she knows if they learned her identity everything would fall apart. Because she’s a child. But if children can go to war, why can’t they enter the political battlefield? If you’re hoping for child soldiers, don’t be surprised if they fight in a different war than you want them to.
Oh, and Cannonball!
This fulfills the CBR 11 Bingo category of “Back to School”