This is happening! This is happening! (SNL’s Black Friday skit, anyone?)
Such a difficult book to review because I have this haunting fear I won’t get it right. But here we go…
There are many things I love about this book, but I will simplify it to a few to focus our time:
- It’s examination of leadership.
- How it portrays children.
- The character of Ender Wiggin.
- The writing style.
WARNING: Some SPOILERS ahead.
Firstly, the book is a fascinating, unpretentious examination of leadership. From Bonzo Madrid who leads through fear and bullying and is threatened by intelligence, to Dink Meeker who is too resentful of authority to see the big picture and too afraid of failure to accept responsibility. Then there’s Bean–extremely intelligent but unsympathetic and unable to inspire. There is the leadership of the teachers, particularly Hyrum Graff, who have to make the decisions they think are best at the risk of being hated and misunderstood. And of course there is Ender Wiggin: brilliant and compassionate, he sees what the teachers are doing and resents them for it, but also understands. More on him later.
There tends to be controversy over Card’s depiction of these gifted children. In one of his newer introductions he describes some of the backlash he received from parents and psychologists who were offended and even threatened by the book. But he also explains how so many gifted children have related to the kids in battle school. Now I’m no child genius, but I was considered an intelligent child. And growing up overseas I was exposed to a lot of things that made me feel like an adult at an early age. The fact that Ender, Alai, and Valentine had to face challenges and responsibilities beyond the scope of childhood was comforting to me. I recognized that early maturity and appreciated Card’s depiction.
And then of course there is Ender Wiggin. There is a sense in which he is the “philosopher king” described by Plato: he is best fit to rule because he doesn’t want to rule. One of my favorite things about him is his compassion. He is deeply empathetic and compassionate. I love how in the book these qualities are seen as strengths. They make Ender the best “theoretic general,” but disqualify him from actual combat (I make this assumption based on several quotes about how he could never make certain judgement calls if he knew real lives were at stake). That is why they have to keep the truth a secret from him. A big reason I always loved this book was because I related to Ender Wiggin. I can imagine that people who don’t like or understand him would have difficulty connecting with the book.
Finally, I appreciate the writing style. And I personally know people who were turned off by it. To me it was clear, to the point, and unpretentious. I felt like Card was speaking to me in my own language.
Overall, I think it is something of a masterpiece: a well-told story that focuses on all the right issues and crafts its characters thoughtfully.