In February, I started reading The Golden Bough by James Frazier. After about five months of slugging through this tome of anthropology and mythology, last week, I was finally able to say I had conquered it. It was no small feat. It’s old and reads like an old book. Not to mention, it’s about 700 pages. So having finished this insightful yet droll classic, I desperately needed something entertaining, fast paced, and easy. Emerging from a dense forest of ancient tales and speculation, I wanted to recapture the feeling I got reading the first Harry Potter book after completing the second hardest semester of my undergraduate career. What to read? For quite a while, Mike had been recommending that I read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and within the past few months, a former tutor (who is rather a male version of me) had recommended that I read it as well. Decision made.
I started it in the morning, and less than 48 hours later, I had finished reading this book. And it’s about 350 pages. Now granted, I had some time on my hands, but that’s fast even for me. It was a breath of fresh air that I craved, and despite zero gravity in the Battle Room, that’s exactly what I got.
This book really has two strengths from a literary standpoint – outstanding character/character development and genuine creativity. Ender Wiggin, the book’s protagonist, is complex and interesting. Continuously conflicted, he strives to excel and do what is right by his guardians and himself, though these are often at odds. As Ender changes and grows, the reader can’t help but see his/her own young self struggle to navigate an adult world that becomes increasingly complex as you age. Ender is smart – extremely smart, and Card expertly shows his thought processes and analytical ability without becoming tedious. While I am not one to insist that quality stories should teach us, many of the best do. And in our modern era when technology thinks for us and many take no time to strategize, it is good to see a literary character who engages in this. I don’t believe that Card was trying to set Ender up as a role model for young people, but many would benefit from emulating him by having a goal, determining how it can be obtained, utilizing all resources, and focusing well enough to make quick, but informed, decisions. Yes, Ender is extremely young, and I could understand why some critics might say, “Well a kid, no matter how advanced, would never respond that way.” That said, Card established Ender, from the beginning as being not only a gifted but an exceptional child. As a kid, I was much more adept at talking to adults than I was to my peers, and I have no delusions of being exceptional. For me, this characteristic did not seem far-fetched. I would also like to remind such critics that the book is science fiction, and there must be some willing suspension of disbelief for any of these (or fantasy) stories to work. For some it might get in the way of the story, but it certainly didn’t for me.
No spoilers here, so I can only divulge so much. But the details in this book are the most creative I’ve come across in a while. Think of the games in the Battle Room as Olympic-level laser tag in zero gravity. Adult manipulation of children is really nothing new in young adult fiction, but the manipulations here are much more poignant. And Card’s play with our concepts of innocence and experience resonate long after you close the book. To top it off, I really didn’t know which way the narrative would bounce. While I knew all was not as it seemed, I couldn’t predict the outcome or the true agenda of Ender’s teachers and mentors. The clues were veiled just enough to keep me guessing.
From simply a reader’s standpoint, the book is engaging, quick, and leaves you thinking. It’s accessible – not a hard read, which is actually quite challenging for a writer to accomplish when writing about complex characters and situations. And to me, the best story is one that everyone can enjoy. Would it win a Pulitzer? Well no, but it may impact more people than a Pulitzer novel will. Absolutely, give Ender’s Game a chance. I did and was immensely satisfied. Yes, I will give the upcoming movie a chance as well – with a giant tub of popcorn, Mike on one side, and Dawson on the other.