Monday, December 9, 2013

YA Book Pick: Ender's Game

On the second Monday of every month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors!

This month's book pick is ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card.

Synopsis (from Barnes & Noble):

Once again, the Earth is under attack. Alien "buggers" are poised for a final assault. The survival of the human species depends on a military genius who can defeat the buggers. But who? Ender Wiggin. Brilliant. Ruthless. Cunning. A tactical and strategic master. And a child. Recruited for military training by the world government, Ender's childhood ends the moment he enters his new home: Battleschool. Among the elite recruits Ender proves himself to be a genius among geniuses. In simulated war games he excels. But is the pressure and loneliness taking its toll on Ender? Simulations are one thing. How will Ender perform in real combat conditions? After all, Battleschool is just a game. Right?

For this month's YA book pick, I decided to go back a bit to a classic book that is now reaching a new generation of readers thanks to the recent release of the feature film based on the novel starring Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield as Ender.  

It's an oldie but a goodie.  Perhaps more middle grade than YA (did they even use those terms in 1985?). Still it's worth taking a look at what continues to remain consistent traits of a great novels and what sets them apart from the pack. 

First Line: "I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one."

Wow, can a first line get better than this?  It tells us so much and it's not even through the protagonist's voice.  The answers it gives and more importantly the questions it raises makes us want to know more. We know our protagonist is not just being watched, but watched very intently and carefully, and through his own eyes and ears.  What does that mean? Is there some type of futuristic monitoring equipment at use? Is there a mind meld? But more importantly why is he being watched? We know, above all, our protagonist is special.  

Second Line: "Or at least as close as we're going to get." All of a sudden, doubt is raised.  Our protagonist is not perfect, he has flaws.  We have in these first two sentences the key question that ties the entire novel together: whatever the situation is, will Ender be able to prove that he is, in fact, the one? 

Highlights: There are two things that stick out in ENDER'S GAME for me.  The first is something that I feel is hard to find in many MG and YA novels these days. The Harry Potter series does this well, which is probably why it's one of the best selling series of all time. What I'm referring to is the keen use of strategy.  The entire novel is a game within a game within a game. Ender develops strategies to outsmart opponents during simulated war games, beats bullies in school, manages adults and defeats aliens.  Survival means overcoming the odds constantly.  Whether it's lunch in the battle school cafeteria or facing a thousand enemy ships, Ender always finds answers that make both strategic and tactical sense.  

The second is the way Card speaks about the future.  It's always interesting to see how authors develop their ideas of what the world will look like.  Fast forward almost thirty years and we have some of the technology that Card speaks of.  His reference to the "net" of course is obvious, but I love the students use of their "desks" which might be similar to what we now commonly refer to as tablets.  I wonder though if Card ever dreamt that the desk could be even smaller (perhaps an iPad mini?).   Olivia Aldridge writes a similar assessment of George Orwell's 1984 and M.T. Anderson's FEED in her article in The Red & Black.

But I digress, we're here to talk about ENDER'S GAME.

Notes for Writers: Card is a master when it comes to creating tension on every page.  If you step back from the page, each scene shows escalating tension not just by action but also by how Ender reacts and thinks about his environment.  With each step, we know not only what is happening externally but also how Ender feels internally.  

Each chapter opens with a conversation between two adults (often Colonel Hyrum Graff and Major Anderson).  There are no dialogue tags and sometimes it's difficult to determine at first who is speaking. However, the intros are very effective in that they set the stage and raise questions we hope will be answered in the chapter.  Often times we're asked in workshops to write dialogue without tags, each chapter of ENDER'S GAME shows great examples of master dialogue at work. 

A Good Read For: Those who enjoy Sci-Fi and Dystopian novels but who also enjoy a great game of chess.  

1 comment:

  1. This one book that is on my list of to read since I write for middle grade boys. Regretfully, I haven't had the chance yet. And sadly, I haven't seen the movie either. Sigh, so many things and so little time.