Is it still a GAME if your life is at stake?

I absolutely could not put this book down.  If I haven’t picked up the sequel yet (and I guess now is the time to admit that I haven’t), it’s only because I don’t want the memory of this book to fade.  This book has everything–fast-paced action, mystery and intrique, great characters and character development, and strong writing. And it has that wonderful characteristic of great science fiction–parodying our own society without shouting at us or lecturing us.  Just telling us how it could be, if we look at our problems in different ways.

It’s one of the many books I’ve read recently that makes me wonder how I didn’t get hooked on science fiction earlier in life.  And makes me lament that a little bit: I mean, I had all the characteristics–I was a nerdy, bookish girl who liked to think a lot and read a lot.  I ended up being a Science major for goodness sake.  How did I get by all of those school librarians and caring teachers without any of them handing me a book like this?  I forgive them, but only because I have now found them.  You might have read this one.  If you haven’t, please do. And even if you have, take these moments to remember it and get a few ideas on how to talk about it with your kids.  While I’m a girl, I think that this will mostly appeal to boys, a sexist comment which is in no way meant to say that girls won’t like it.  (Please, I say “mostly” for a reason.)  But it’s typical boy stuff—boy main character, war games, politics.  Not a lot of love interest in this one.

There are a lot of sequels to Ender’s Game, and as I haven’t read them, I can’t say too much, but I do know this, which I think is cool: some of them happen at the same time as each other, but from different points of view, told by different characters.  The characters are all so good, even the supporting ones, that I’m excited to hear some of their stories.

Although as a disclaimer—I’m not sure if this will be read as a plus or minus to most people—the founder of Facebook claims this as his favorite book.  So that take as you will.

Title: Ender’s Game
Author: Orson Scott Card
Genre
: Science Fiction
Age: Middle School and High School and a lot of Adults, Ages 10 and up

Summary and Review:

Andrew Wiggins, or “Ender” as his beloved sister has always called him, is a genius.  A rare “third” in a society where a two-child maximum has been imposed, the government has been watching his development closely, hoping he’ll have a mix of his siblings’ genius without the over-aggression of his older brother or the too-peaceful nature of his younger sister.

At only six years old, Ender is taken to a special school to train military geniuses, he engages with his friends in war games, training together and learning combat strategies as humans prepare for what they think will be the third attack by an alien species who has almost wiped out the human race twice before.  This is part action adventure, part school fiction, and part coming-of-age story.  Ender’s heroics as a leader on the battlefields endear him to the strategists but make him some fierce enemies within the school itself.  Bullying, cliques, and friendships are all themes this book is not afraid to explore.

When it came time for the final games, I actually cried when the scene opened up, with Ender at the controls and the friends he had made under his command.  I felt like I had known these kids for years, and I was still only in the first book.  The ending is beautiful, poignant, surprising, and provocative.  And then when Ender himself thinks about everything that happened, it is all those things all over again.  An amazingly crafted tale with an amazing voice and great characters.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Let’s be honest.  The most likely reader for this story is a boy in middle school and high school, so the conversations you are going to have with him aren’t long.  But there are a lot of great things to talk about.  I think some of the great themes in the book are:

a) school classroom teasing, bullying, and hierarchy
b) friendships
c) politics and political power (specifically the political power that Ender’s siblings are gaining, anonymously, through their online writings)
d) inter-species relations (which can obviously translate to inter-racial relations, international relations, intercultural relations, and even, speaking in environmental terms rather than extraterrestrial ones, inter-species relations again
e) what it means to grow up

When you talk to your kids about the book, ask them mostly about the characters.  I think a lot of a, b, and e can get lost in the action and science fiction of it all.  But the book is really about these people and how they interact, and just asking open-ended questions to learn more about the book should open an interesting conversation about school dynamics.  Also, it can be hard to get a middle school kid to talk about school cliques, but if they are talking about them in the context of an other-worldly school, it becomes less real and easier to talk about.  And no matter who they are talking about, you’ll still get a very good picture of how they think things are going in their own school, with their own friends.  Even if they won’t say so directly.

Other questions you could ask:

1) Why is the government using children for these missions and training?

2) What are the qualities in Ender that make him so special?  Both of his siblings are just as smart, if not smarter, than him.  What makes him different?

3) What does your child think about the ending of the book, and more importantly, about what Ender thinks about what happened?

4) A science kid might be interested in the idea of two different species trying to understand each other.  In this case, the buggers and the humans, with their different system of communications, fail to understand each other at a catastrophically fatal level.  Could it be possible that humans in this world are doing this with different species in this world?

Alternatively to a conversation, you could do a newspaper or online search for modern stories that parallel different story lines in the book.  This would be a great activity for an older child, especially one who is interested in politics or warfare.  There are a million stories out there that would work–some political, some environmental, some social.  The book comments on so much.

Really, you could do a year’s worth of curriculum on this book.  But I will stop here.  This is supposed to be a blog, after all, not a unit of curriculum.

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