Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I’ve recently finished reading ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas, amid all of the hype over this book. And let me just say this: that hype is well deserved. I’m just going to make it clear right now that I adored this novel and am rating it 5/5 stars. It’s funny, heart-breaking, relatable and so, so relevant right now with everything that’s going on in the world. It’s a story that needs to be told and a truly fantastic debut in the YA genre for 2017.

The story follows Starr, a seventeen year old girl ‘from the hood’ A.K.A Garden Heights. Her life is divided into two parts: the Starr she acts like at her preppy, white private school, and her true self. However her two lives are blown apart when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her friend Khalil by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. With pressures facing her on all sides, Starr must decide between what is right and what is easy. She must use her voice to fight for justice, for Khalil and herself.

I found Starr to be a relatable, down-to-earth protagonist who I could easily feel for and imagine myself in the shoes of. The confusing storm of emotions she feels in the wake of her friend’s murder is very believable and deeply painful to read, especially knowing that although this book is fiction, it’s based on true events. Her close relationship with her family members is also at times hilarious and heart-warming to read. I loved her interactions with her dad in particular, who clearly cares a lot for his family and neighbourhood, despite being an ex-con and an ex-gangster.

Thomas has done an excellent job of developing a large and diverse cast of characters, delving into their backstories and humanising them in ways that allow you to understand their choices, even if they’re bad ones. A lot of the book is centred on examining the stereotypes and assumptions people make about ‘thug life’ and the black community – an idea which is very neatly explained by Tupac’s lyrics ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody’. Too often the media’s portrayal of these communities is one-dimensional, focusing only on the bad without understanding the complex web of reasons behind it. Thomas’ book rightly examines how many of these people, like Khalil, are in fact victims of a system that is already stacked against them and how perpetuating these stereotypes will only continue to worsen the situation.

I also really enjoyed the subtle critique of ‘casual racism’ in this book – how racist terminology has become so ingrained in our culture that we might not even be aware of it. Chris, Starr’s white boyfriend, provides a model example of how not to take white priviledge for granted. His tolerance and sensitivity are a great contrast to Hailey – Starr’s white best friend who keeps making racist jokes and then tries to deny that they’re racist. I thought this was really important, as it shows that racism isn’t just about big flashy news headlines, it’s about the little things too. And as someone who’s been on the receiving end of those kinds of jokes, I felt a sense of validation to know that I did have the right to get upset over it.

Overall, I thought this book was incredibly well-written and authentic. A lot of it is clearly based on personal experience and the author did a fantastic job of bringing Garden Heights and its inhabitants to life. It’s not often I find a YA book that deals with serious issues such as this so well, and I think it really has the potential to make a difference.

Have you read ‘The Hate U Give’? What did you think of it? Leave your comments below!

Book Review: ‘Aggravated Momentum’ by Didi Oviatt

I received a free review copy of ‘Aggravated Momentum’ by Didi Oviatt in return for an honest review. Okay, first things first, I loved this book. It took me on a real rollercoaster of emotions and the two twists caught me by complete surprise. The pacing of the story and the way certain key plot points are revealed to you make for an exhilarating and fast read.

‘Aggravated Momentum’ is an adult thriller, a ‘murder mystery’ type story that reminded me of ‘Dark Places’ by Gillian Flynn. It’s written from the POVs of multiple characters, including the killer. Markie, the protagonist, is still grieving the death of her best friend Beth, who was murdered a year ago. However when the killer strikes again, it becomes clear that they won’t stop until they’ve destroyed everyone close to Markie. To protect her family and those she loves, Markie must work together with the police to draw the killer out and figure out what they want before it’s too late. But why is she being targeted? And what other dark secrets does the killer have that will change Markie’s life forever?

Adult thriller isn’t my usual genre. I went into this book not knowing what to expect, and was very pleasantly surprised. Markie, the MC, is sharp, witty and independent. Though still obviously a bit traumatised by what happened to her friend Beth, she’s clearly a very capable and intelligent woman who knows how to stay calm during stressful situations. Though sometimes I found her a little cold and unfairly judgemental of the people around her, I liked that she wasn’t a perfect lovable MC. I think the point of this book is that none of the characters are good people, yet they’re intriguing enough that you want to learn more about them.

Markie’s younger sister Kam also plays a significant part in the story. Unlike Markie, she’s a bit more frivolous and doesn’t think before she speaks, which makes her seem insensitive a lot of the time. The dynamic between the two sisters is very realistic – though they both clearly have some big flaws, they still care about each other deeply, one of their redeeming qualities.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I think in many ways this book breaks down some of the tropes associated with the thriller/crime genre. I really liked the fact that the killer was revealed so soon and we got to read parts of the story from their POV – even though the big reveal happened early on there were still other surprises in store and I liked the dramatic irony. I found it unsettling to hear the killer’s thought processes; it gave me shivers and reminded me a lot of Clockwork Orange. Though I usually find books with multiple POVs confusing and overly complex, the pacing and the narrative structure here worked well since it all fit into one clear plot arc with a satisfyingly shocking conclusion.

If crime and thriller is your thing, I would highly recommend ‘Aggravated Momentum’ as an exciting, sexy and refreshingly original alternative to the usual staples of the genre. #SupportIndie and pick up a copy here

Book review: ‘Panther’ by David Owen (guest post)

Review written by Hannah Froggatt

‘Panther’ by David Owen is a coming of age YA novel focusing on the relationship between the teenage protagonist, Derrick, and his older sister Charlotte. Ever since Charlotte was diagnosed with major depression, her illness has been tearing the family apart. The stress has led Derrick to develop a compulsive eating disorder. However when he hears that a Panther has recently escaped from a local zoo, Derrick thinks that maybe capturing it can be his salvation, that maybe stopping the beast in it’s physical form will be enough to save his sister too.

When you first pick up Panther, you’re struck by its veracity. The characterisation is masterful. Derrick, our protagonist, is a perfect blend of naïvety and worldliness: perceptive enough to see his family is falling apart but ill-equipped to help them. Charlotte’s barbed interactions with Derrick are the best parts of the book, managing to be both sardonic and tender whilst digging right to the heart of Panther’s central theme of understanding — and accepting what we can’t understand. Despite some slightly self-conscious discussion of social media, Owen’s grasp of teenage world-views is sterling.

So is the depiction of mental health disorders. Few writers manage to depict such illnesses this dispassionately, but more impressive is Owen’s understanding of the three-dimensional presence of issues like depression. Derrick’s bewilderment at Charlotte’s behaviour — and his own — is completely genuine, and an excellent standpoint from which to explore how it affects those nearest sufferer and how it disrupts the narratives of our lives.

The only thing that doesn’t work is, unfortunately, the central metaphor. Derrick’s obsession with the escaped panther supposedly roaming his neighbourhood feels jarring and childish for the character’s years. The panther is meant to represent the depression that preys on Derrick’s family, but this clumsy attempt at magical realism clashes horribly with the blunt naturalism that makes the rest of the story so powerful.

Panther aside, it’s still worth a read. The beautiful character-craft and unblinking exploration of mental health make it thoroughly worth your time.

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

‘In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer’ – Albert Camus

In 1939, The Soviet Union occupied the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Thousands of citizens considered to be ‘anti-soviet’ were murdered, sent to prison or deported into slavery in Siberia. Ruta Sepetys’ debut novel ‘Between shades of gray’ is the harrowing story of these deportees, told from the perspective of Lina, a 15 year old girl whose family are taken in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers and sent to a Siberian work camp.

I first heard about this book on goodreads. I usually don’t read historical fiction, but it had such a high rating that I had to see what the hype was about. And believe me, that rating is well deserved. Haunting in its simplicity and brutally honest, this book tells the story of one of WWII’s hidden tragedies. While the horrors the Nazis committed and the holocaust are general knowledge, the invasion of the Baltic states is virtually ignored in history lessons, which is why I think reading this book is so important. It gives a voice to a silenced generation of people, uncovers a trauma narrative that has woven its way to the very heart of the nation.

Sepetys prose is not flowery or elaborate. It’s stark, cold and sometimes detached, reflecting the bleak reality of the protagonists lives. However this doesn’t mean that it’s unemotional; on the contrary emotion seeps into every part of the narrative, from Lina’s flashbacks to the happier times in her past, to her overflowing love for her family. Despite being subjected to hostile conditions, abuse and trauma at the hands of the Russian soldiers, Lina remains strong and determined to escape, to reunite her family and return to her homeland with them.

One of the things I loved about this novel is the characterisation. Lina, her younger brother Jonas, their mother and Andrius (Lina’s love interest) are all unique, three-dimensional characters with their own passions, their own dreams, but also sharing the same dream: to return home. Lina’s observations of the other deportees in their group are morbidly humorous, quirky and insightful. It’s a beautiful depiction of how adversity can bond people together and the strength of the human survival instinct.

I can’t say it was an easy book to read. There were times when I had to take a break and pull myself out of it because it was sending me into a downward spiral of ‘how can people be so cruel? What’s wrong with humanity?’ Saying this though, it was a necessary book to read. Based on true events, this novel is an education as well as a lesson in empathy. It’s heart-breaking and harrowing, but at the same time incredibly inspiring. While it showcases the worst side of humanity, it also showcases the best: how, in Ruta Sepetys’s words, ‘love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of the human spirit.’

Have you read this book, or others by Ruta Sepetys? Let me know your thoughts! 

Book Review: ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a work of modern art. It’s radical, sophisticated and subversive in all the right ways. And, dammit, there’s just something really sexy about reading an intellectual book and learning new things without it feeling like extra work.

I’ve read ‘Half of a yellow sun’ by Adichie in the past, so I went in with high expectations, which were met and exceeded by this book. It follows two star-crossed lovers, Ifemelu and Obinze, from their upbringing in a middle-class neighbourhood in Nigeria. However their relationship is cut short when Ifemelu emigrates to America to continue her education and Obinze, failing to get a visa, starts a new undocumented life as an illegal immigrant in England instead.

In America, Ifemelu deals with success and failure, finds and ends new relationships and eventually gets a fellowship at Princeton. For the first time, she becomes aware of race as a concept, and how differently she is treated because of her skin. She starts to document her observations in the form of a blog about race, which quickly brings her newfound fame. However despite all the luxuries of her new life, something pulls her back home, back to the Nigeria she grew up in. When she returns she meets Obinze again, who is now a wealthy, married man. As the two former lovers reunite, old sparks are rekindled and the two are faced with some tough decisions about their futures.

I once heard someone on goodreads refer to this book as a ‘500 page commentary on race’ (it was meant as an insult, I think of it as a positive thing). It’s true that ‘Americanah’ is not subtle at all about the issues of racism it tackles, and very much focuses on Ifemelu’s experience of being black in America. However it doesn’t read like a text book, or a preachy rant, it reads like a very smart, very intellectual novel written by a world-renowned race academic. As Ifemelu herself says in the book, racism is not a subtle thing, and should not be dealt with in a subtle way. As it does for all African Americans, race is something that affects every aspect of the protagonist’s life, and therefore seeps into every part of her narrative. The point of the novel is to illuminate the pervasive, omnipresent shadow that race is for those living in the Western world, and also how race is not a fixed category as its definition is tied to shifting social values.

‘Americanah’ is not just another ‘book about race’. It’s brutally honest, heartbreaking and also fiercely hopeful. It analyses the very real, very damaging consequences that race can have, from racial stereotyping, to lack of representation, to alienation and loss of identity. It’s a book about overcoming hardship and succeeding in a country that is against you purely on the basis of your appearance. It’s about miscommunication, a lack of understanding, a lack of willingness to learn. It’s a story about love in many different forms and, ultimately, two people finding each other again.

Book review: ‘We were liars’ by E. Lockhart

“The island is ours. Here, in some way, we are young forever.”

I’ve read a lot of books in the last few months. Spending nearly 3 hours a day on a train commuting to work and back has made reading the highlight of my day. But despite all of the classics I’ve read ‘We were liars’ is the book that has stuck with me. I know that many will claim that it’s not in the same league because it’s ‘YA’ and therefore of lesser value somehow. But frankly I feel like there’s not enough space in the world of literature for newness, that literature is very much a closed off category of the past.

‘We were liars’ is a work of the present. Through her depiction of the Sinclair family, Lockhart paints a surprisingly authentic metaphor of modern day American society, touching on relevant issues such as insidious racism and power struggles within the family dynamic. Though the Sinclairs may be beautiful, rich and powerful on the outside, they are riddled with corruption and tragedy underneath.

Cadence Eastman Sinclair is the American golden girl; she’s rich, pretty, loved, however beneath the facade she is struggling with chronic, debilitating migraines, which doctors believe to be a symptom of a post-traumatic brain injury. She believes this was caused by an accident she had swimming in the sea, while holidaying on her family’s island two summers ago. However she’s not really sure, since the accident also caused amnesia.

From there Cadence takes us on a trip down memory lane, back to when she first went to the island with the rest of her family, including her cousins Johnny and Mirren and Johnny’s best friend Gat.

The four of them quickly become close friends, calling themselves the ‘liars’. Cadence falls in love with Gat and they start a summer fling, one that Cadence’s grandfather, the patriarch of the family, disproves of since Gat is ethnically Indian. While the grandfather never says this outright and speaks more in veiled threats than clear statements, the situation becomes tense and Gat mysteriously breaks off the budding romance.

Heartbroken, Cadence tries to move on, however when she finally returns to the island 2 summers later everything has changed and it’s clear that something isn’t right. What really happened on the night of the accident? To discover the truth, Cadence is forced to dig up old memories that are probably better left buried.

Lockhart’s prose flows effortlessly as she describes lazy days on the beach of a paradise island cut off from reality. Everything about this book has a dreamy, semi-lucid quality to it, evoking emotion and imagery with every paragraph. It’s truly a masterpiece to read, and even better when you find out what the twist is at the end. Though I had my suspicions, it still took me by surprise and I thought it was very masterfully constructed. I was satisfied with the ending and, though I was sad it was over, it felt like the story had come to a natural close.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys mysteries, suspense, psychological thrillers and general YA. It really is an excellent read and definitely worth the time investment.

Review: ‘Wonder’ by R.J Palacio (guest post)

Anyone who’s filled with as much self-doubt as I am will surely understand what I mean when I say that every now and then, you come across a book that makes you resolve to be a better person. Wonder by R. J. Palacio is absolutely one of those books. Touching, engaging and uplifting, it offered everything I wanted from a story and then some: a whole host of characters; conflict that felt only too realistic; a conclusion so poignant I’m still drying my eyes and an abundance of youthful, untamed delight.

Trying to summarise a book that’s comparable in style only to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is not easy, but I’ll give it a go. The premise is simple: August Pullman has a genetic condition that makes him look different to other ten-year-olds. Not just a bit different, like a cleft lip or a weird birthmark, but really, truly, stop-in-the-street-and-stare, makes-small-children-run-away-screaming different. Up until the point where the story starts, he has led a sheltered life. If you can call undergoing surgery every few months, wearing a space helmet every time he goes outside and being home schooled by understandably overprotective parents sheltered, that is. But things are about to change, because Auggie is starting middle school. (Whatever that is. Damn these Americans and their confusing educational systems.) Here, he – and the reader – will meet a variety of his peers and undertake a Bildungsroman-esque journey towards all kinds of acceptance.

I could gush about all the things that are great about Wonder for at least thirty pages. Auggie’s emotions, his dark humour, all the ups and downs…it all feels so real, and that’s what makes the story so gripping. I was rooting for him right from the first page, and I found it surprisingly easy to put myself in his shoes thanks to Palacio’s honest, conversational style. What was even more surprising is that I actually engaged more with Auggie, a ten-year-old boy whose life is dominated by a physical distortion, than I did with, for example, his older sister Olivia.

Via is closer to my age than her brother; her typical-teenage-girl problems are certainly more familiar to me than the issues our protagonist faces. Yet, during Via’s sections of the book, I found myself skimming the text, wondering when it was time to get back to the proper story. Yes, I cared about her, and about Jack, and Summer, and Miranda, and even Justin, but these characters’ musings felt like mere interruptions. It’s only now, on reflection, that I am beginning to question whether the asides about Jack’s poverty, Miranda’s home life and so on had some deeper meaning. Yes, these children look completely normal from the outside, but as the saying goes, everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Auggie’s classmates might not carry their burdens on their faces like he does, but they are all equally scarred in one way or another: by their past; by their family; by their friends. If the multiple narratives aren’t there to move the plot along, then perhaps they are intended to remind us that Mr. Browne’s precepts apply to everyone, whether their problems are visible or not. “When given the choice between being right and being kind,” Palacio is telling us, “always choose kind”.

I’ve seen some reviews that use words like ‘ableist’ in relation to the story’s tear-jerking happy ending. Some readers suggest that Auggie is awarded the Henry Ward Beecher medal simply for being deformed, and is therefore subject to positive discrimination. I disagree. Auggie earns his standing ovation for showing empathy, wisdom and kindness in the face of adversity, just like Via and Justin do when they face their demons in order to play the leads in their high school production. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a physical condition, a broken family, the death of a loved one…we are wonderful not in spite of but because of our struggles, and this deserves recognition. Who knows what these characters would be like had they led seemingly idyllic lives like Julian? Who’s to say that they wouldn’t be the ones putting mean notes in other pupils’ lockers? I think Palacio is telling us to embrace our differences, even the ones that make people point and laugh. Even the ones that provoke attacks from the uninformed. Even the ones that, as in my case, make strangers stop in the street and say, “Gosh, you’re tall!”.

These are the things that shape us into the remarkable human beings that we are.

 

This guest post was written by a good friend of mine, Rosie, who runs her own book blog ‘an improbable truth‘. Check it out for more excellent book reviews! 

Book Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

“Hello? I hope somebody is listening.”

‘Radio Silence’ is one of those powerful, powerful novels that sticks with you long after you’ve finished it. It’s striking, rebellious, startlingly funny and incredibly honest at the same time. Most of all though, it’s a beautiful story about two people finding love and solace in each other. And when I say that, I mean in a completely platonic sense. Yes that’s right, the main relationship in this novel is a boy-girl friendship that DOESN’T turn into a romance. And frankly I think that’s what makes this book great.

There’s so much pressure in society nowadays to find a romantic partner – romance is portrayed as being the only way to love and be loved. Anything else is useless and a waste of time. But I really hate that idea, that love is basically worthless unless it’s a certain kind of love. I believe that you can find soulmates in platonic relationships too. And I don’t think a platonic relationship is less strong or less valuable than a romantic one. They’re just different kinds of love. Both good, both beautiful in their own ways.

Anyway, rant aside, I don’t see enough good friendship stories around, and ‘Radio Silence’ satisfies my need for one. It’s quirky, fun and the main character is a nerdy fangirl so I think most of us bookworms out there can probably relate. The story is written in first person from the point of view of Frances who feels alone, misunderstood, and basically pours all of her energy into her studies to distract herself from it. Her secret obsession is a sci-fi podcast called ‘University City’ which she draws fan art for and puts on tumblr. Then the maker of the podcast asks her to become the official artist for the show. Around the same time, she also meets and befriends the maker in real life – Aled Last, a shy boy who’s hiding more than one secret, including a missing sister who Frances used to be friends with.

Frances and Aled quickly bond over the podcast and become best friends, however when Aled’s secret identity as the maker of the podcast is revealed, the trust between them is broken and things start to go downhill.

Alice Oseman’s writing style in ‘Radio Silence’ is very grounded and authentic – she’s only 21 herself which is absolutely incredible, and in my opinion makes her very relatable to this generation of young readers. Tumblr and online culture play a big part in the book, much more so than in any other YA I’ve read, which again is all down to the author drawing from her own personal experiences. Also there’s a lot of diversity – non-white characters, LGBT characters, asexual characters, characters with mental health issues. I think this is an incredibly brave move, as I get the feeling that despite the demand for diversity YA publishers still tend to stick more to ‘conventional’ books as they believe there’s less risk attached.

Anyway, in conclusion, GO AND READ THIS BOOK. It’s a book about so many things – identity, sexuality, goals, friendship. Frances and Aled were more than just main characters, they were people I was rooting for and wanted to be friends with. And I think that’s how you know when a book’s good. When you’re so invested that it stops being fiction and becomes real to you.

Review: Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell

“Dreams are shores where the ocean of spirit meets the land of matter. Dreams are beaches where the yet-to-be, the once-were, the will-never-be may walk awhile with the still are.” 

Rating: 5/5 stars

I’ve just finished reading the novel ‘number9dream’ by David Mitchell, acclaimed author of ‘Cloud Atlas’ which was recently made into a film. It’s his second book and was shortlisted for a Booker prize (though in my opinion it should’ve won one.) Though it must be clear by the rating I gave it, I was thoroughly impressed with this novel. It’s the sort of book that makes you question your own sanity, as well as the author’s, but that’s what I loved about it. By the time I’d finished reading it I was beginning to wonder if I was in a dream or not as well.

I was given this book as a present from a friend who said it ‘reminded her of Haruki Murakami’ (who I absolutely adore). She couldn’t have been more right: not only is ‘number9dream’ in the same vein as this Japanese cult author, it is actually inspired by it and freely acknowledges ‘Norwegian Woods’ as its inspiration within the text. There are certainly many aspects shared by both books: the writing style, the surreal image of Tokyo and the characterisation of the two female protagonists (Ai Imago and Midori) have clear similarities. It seems the Beatles are a very popular muse in literature nowadays.
‘Number9dream’ is a coming of age story at heart. Much like Norwegian Woods, it’s about coming to terms with identity, finding love and dealing with loss. Eiji Miyake, the protagonist of the novel, travels to Tokyo with the goal of finding the father he’s never met. However along the way he gets side-tracked, falls in love and gets in trouble with the Yakuza. I guess that’s the simple summary of the story. Except the narrative structure is far more complicated, as it contrasts the parallel universes of reality and dreams, to the point where you’re no longer sure what’s real and what isn’t. So basically, it’s a 418 page existential crisis in bound print.
Eiji’s story is the over-arching backbone of the novel, and everything else within is perceived through his point of view, including his fantasies. Each chapter, or ‘dream’, features another of these ‘illusions’ that Eiji uses to escape from reality, sometimes through video games, or books, or film. In fact one of these ‘illusions’ has recently been made into a short film: it’s called ‘The Voorman problem.’ Fun fact: my screenwriting professor this year helped produce it! Another of my favourites was the chapter ‘Kai Ten’ in which Eiji reads the journal of his great uncle, who was a Kai-Ten torpedo pilot during the 2nd world war. Through these illusions, the author manages to showcase a number of different narratives and ways of story-telling, creating a compelling blend of voices.
One of the things I love most about this novel is its blatant pretentiousness. I know that sounds a bit strange, but it takes a lot of skill to pull off something so experimental. Though there are a lot of detailed, banal and very realistic descriptions of Tokyo, it’s clear the author is not confining his writing to the category of ‘believable.’ In fact a lot of the dialogue is precocious, quirky and witty in a way that real people just aren’t. But that’s okay, because it’s good dialogue and even though it’s a bit cheesy, sometimes cheesy can be good when done in the right way. The author doesn’t just make his meaning obvious, he goes a step further and has his characters actually discuss it. Oh, the irony and meta-drama.
One very apparent example of this is the chapter ‘Study of Tales’, which is a collection of children’s stories that Eiji reads. They are more like thinly-veiled allegories for the writing trade and publishing business, each story dealing with a different aspect including the search for originality and the effect of the internet revolution on publishing.
Overall, I love this book because despite the magic realism side, the heart of the narrative contains genuine granules of human truth. Eiji tries to escape from reality to deal with the loss of his sister, but in the end he has to face his past in order to heal. One of my favourite quotes from the book is this: “maybe the meaning of life lies in looking for it”. A valuable piece of advice, it’s the reminder that meanings are not a fixed point to strive for but something that can change and evolve with us.

Ender’s Game – Best of Sci-Fi

So, it took me three whole days to finish reading the novel ‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card, and then move quickly onto the film. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s one of those books that you can’t put down, that makes you forget your body’s annoying need for things like sleep, that makes all other tasks in life seem dreary and completely unnecessary because, dammit, you could be reading instead.

I digress, but my point is that it was very hard to tear myself away from this particular book and it became a bit of an addiction. Let’s face it, beautiful prose is basically a Literature student’s version of substance abuse.

I’ll be focusing only on the novel today, though I may blog in the future about the film adaptation also. I’m going to choose the top 5 things I love about the novel. 

The Originality – I have to admit, there has been a LOT of sci-fi ‘stop the alien invasion’ fiction around lately, but Ender’s Game has got to be one of the most creative and original concepts I’ve seen in a long time. For one, the aliens aren’t actually the main focus. Yes, they’re the driving force of the plot, but that’s all they ever are: a mysterious ‘enemy’ that must be defeated, except no one really knows why until the very end, leaving us to question the morality of it throughout most of the book.

The Detail: Card’s writing style is very easy to read and get into. He delves right into the story and constantly moves the plot along at a pretty fast pace. No time to stop and dawdle on the majesty of the universe, or waste a few pages describing the artful space chair (cough Charles Dickens cough take a hint). There’s a nice balance between dialogue, description and emotion. Enough so that we as the reader have the chance to connect with Ender and feel sympathy for him, but not so much that we start to hate him for being a whiney brat. Though I did find some of the action scenes in the battle room hard to visualise because of the whole ‘null gravity’ thing, I liked that Card didn’t try and patronise readers by over-explaining everything and instead trusted us to use our own imaginations. He’s fantastic at the whole ‘show but don’t tell’ thing, a skill which has been drilled into my head by every creative writing guide I’ve ever read.

The side-plots: I liked how the author wasn’t afraid to shift perspective from Ender to some of the other protagonists, making the plot that much more complex. General Graff, for instance, provides an interesting insight into how the bureaucracy has chosen to justify using children as military weapons. His relationship with Ender, too, can be seen as almost paternal. The other big plot line is that of Valentine and Peter: Ender’s siblings. After all, if a 10 year old military space commander is believable, then why not a 14 year old megalomaniac intent on world domination? Peter and Valentine’s little political stint makes a nice real-world contrast to all of the intergalactic conflict happening in Ender’s life, and in a way reminds us that the futuristic society that the novel is set in may not be all that different from our own.

The supporting characters: I found that every one of the supporting characters had their own distinct personality traits, and there was something to either love or hate about all of them. Sometimes, especially with the bullies like Bernard and Bonzo, it’s how they react to situations and how they are provoked. Sometimes it’s the language they use: certain slang words, a way of speaking. A lot of the time it’s through Ender’s relationship with them, most notably Alai and Bean.

Ender himself – ah. How do I even begin? Of course you have a soft spot for him. Everyone does. Even the people training him to commit genocide. Admittedly, I do have a soft spot for misunderstood clever boys (cough Sherlock cough) but Ender is a special case. Maybe because he’s always getting bullied and everyone loves an underdog. Maybe because he actually defends himself. But I think the main reason is that despite being a child prodigy, he still retains his innocence and compassion. ‘Ender’s Game’ is just as much about Ender’s humanity as it is about him being a badass military commander. He feels guilt for hurting others, but does it anyway because he knows he has to. It seems like the reluctant hero is always the most loved.

Overall, it’s a brilliant book that deals with a lot of dark themes. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like YA at all, even though it would technically be in that genre as the protagonist is only 10 years old for most of it. Somehow, Card made the entire concept of a kid in the military very believable, and while telling Ender’s story simultaneously questions the morality and ethics of warfare. Though it may be set centuries into the future, Ender’s Game relates to timeless issues affecting all of us – what makes us human? How far can we go while retaining our humanity? To destroy monsters, you must become one. I have no idea who came up with that quote, but it seems very applicable to Ender Wiggin.