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Monday, October 15, 2012

Ender's Game -- Over 20 years old and still excellent

This past week I re-read Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game.  I hadn't really planned to do so, but my 13 year-old daughter had been reading it and I picked it up to reread the first chapter and once again I got hooked.
      This time, though, as I was drawn again into Ender's world at Battle School I tired to figure out why I (and an awful lot of other people) like this book so much.  On its surface it isn't particularly remarkable.  Ender is a brilliant kid who is chosen to be trained to be a military leader and to fight against an alien force that has its heart set on colonizing earth.  His older brother was also recruited, but was found to be too heartless to be a good leader.  His older sister was also recruited but found to be too empathic to put the objective before the soldiers.  And so Ender fights his way through bullies and an increasingly difficult series of strategic games to eventually accomplish the impossible. 

     There is something about this book that makes it more dramatically engaging than either of its sequels.  (In the Ender's Shadow series, Card comes close to the excitent ot the original.)   I think it is a couple of things.  First, because Ender's only real strength is his mind, it is easy to get him into situations that are desperate -- and whether it is a bully who wants him dead, or an arena game where the rules are stacked against him -- Ender has to think his way out.
     Second, I think it is his vulnerablility.  Event though I have read this book several times, I still find myself wondering how he is going to survive.  Like many other exceptioanlly wonderful adolescent literature writers (I think of Tolkein, for example), Card is willing to put his protagonist at great risk.
      Third,  Ender is a likable protagonist.  He cares for other people.  He wants to do the right thing.  He wishes he had a real friend.  All of this gets us on his side.
     Really, though, this doesn't solve the mystery at all.  The truth is, I have no idea what makes Ender's Game such a great book.  I just know that it is.  And if you teach kids fifth grade and up, it is a great way to engage students in reading an excellent story.  So you need to buy it (and maybe a second copy, because your students are going to wear the first one out.)

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