Review | Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card [Contributor]

Editor’s Note: Ender’s Game may be one of the most awaited film adaptations of a novel in recent years, and Stephen Olson is a huge fan of the novel, as well as its sequels.  In the coming weeks and months, Attack of the Books! will feature his reviews and guide to the universe (or Enderverse, if you will)  of Orson Scott Card’s award winning Ender’s Game series. This is the third in the series. You can find other posts in Stephen Olson’s series on Ender’s game here. 

Disclaimer: Take any criticisms I make of this book with a grain of salt.  I’ve read it more than half a dozen times, including over the weekend in preparation for writing this review.  Every time, I enjoyed it.  Once or twice, I’ve even read the whole book in one day rather than my usual pace of two days.  Actions speak louder than words, so you can safely assume that I enjoy this book immensely even if some of my words speak otherwise.

I first read Ender’s Game at the age of eleven.  My family had all highly recommended reading it, but no one told me much about the plot, other than that it involved children and video games.  Still, based off of how everyone felt about it, I expected to enjoy the book greatly.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a journal from the time period to see my thoughts from my first reading of this book, but I do remember a bit about the experience.

Ender’s Game tells the story of gifted children at a school training to become military commanders to fight an alien menace that nearly destroyed the human race eighty years earlier.  The main character, Ender, constantly faces isolation from his peers and teachers.  As a kid coming to terms with my own gifts and isolation, this story resonated a great deal.  I saw a lot of myself in Ender as he struggled to get along with other kids who often resented him.  In the situations where Ender tries to deal with teachers who don’t understand I saw my own school experience at a time when I had started to figure out that the teacher may not always know best.

This version of the narrative, where children see themselves in the children in the book, is a powerful narrative.  I actually never recommended this book to any of my friends at the time because I felt so strongly about it.  With an over-inflated ego, I figured that none of my peers could possibly understand the challenges that Ender faced in the same way that I did.  When a friend did end up reading it a year later and greatly enjoying it, I was shocked.  How could he understand my story?

And yet this really is a universal story for children.  Since then, I’ve known kids from all across the spectrum who enjoy Ender’s Game and relate to the characters in it.  What I missed at the time has become obvious now: every child knows their own uniqueness, and thus can see a lot of their self in the starkly unique characters of the book.  So my student who had none of the gifts that made Ender the hero of the story still had his other gifts that allowed him to understand Ender just as well as I did.

Considering how strongly I felt about the book in my childhood, it surprises me that I feel even more strongly about it now, as an adult.   Then again, Orson Scott Card wrote Ender’s Game for adults.  As a kid, I remember hearing one of my aunts talking rather animatedly about this book, expressing her outrage that the kids in the book had lost their childhood in being trained as soldiers.  It particularly bothered her because she saw her own children in the characters in the book.

These days, as a teacher, I see some of myself in the teachers and military officers running the school as I also see my students in the characters.  Now I experience and understand the morality discussions that permeate the book because I’ve had similar discussions in my profession.  Obviously we don’t talk about what constitutes pushing too hard when training the future commanders who will save Earth from aliens, but there are still the difficult decisions about how to best help kids learn.  When finishing this book yesterday, I had to put it down a few times because the situations made me emotional.  One particular scene made me so angry I had to wait a half hour before continuing on.

So.  Yeah.  I love this book.

Of course, no book is perfect.  I mentioned in my previous post that the Ender’s Game series contains a variety of inconsistencies.  Most of the issues in Ender’s Game come from the way Orson Scott Card has added more material years later.  However, I still found three and a half internal inconsistencies.  Luckily, none of them affect the plot in any major way.  In fact, it took me several readings to find even the first of these, so I would say they won’t affect your enjoyment of the story.  Certainly they did not affect mine.

There are also a few lulls in the story.  While necessary to the plot, I feel like it moves too slowly in these places.  Still, it only happens a few times.  The material is still interesting, even if it’s not exactly in sync with the rest of the book.  In fact, one of my favorite parts now is one of these segments that I found boring on first reading.

In conclusion, I’d say that if your life involves children in any way (you have children, work with children, are a child yourself, or were a child at some point), you should find something you relate to in Ender’s Game.  And even if it doesn’t mean as much to you as it does to me, I still imagine that you’ll enjoy the story.  Card wrote an exciting book, and it has only taken this long to make a movie adaptation because Hollywood’s technology had to catch up with Card’s vision.

Content Advisory

  • Language: Given the military setting and age of the characters, language becomes an issue.  There is some swearing, but nothing that would be R-rated.  Most of the language content fits the context and it never feels unnecessary or gratuitous.
  • Violence: Several scenes in the book are violent.  These scenes are all crucial to the plot.  A few other scenes that are not necessarily violent are still rather intense.  On other occasions, Card uses some moderately disturbing imagery.

When I first read Ender’s Game, I barely even noticed the language until one of my cousins mentioned it.  Even then, I had heard worse at school.  The violence bothered me, but not as much as the violence I saw on TV or in movies.  Most students I’ve talked to about it seemed to feel the same way about the various content.  Regardless of the content, I still feel confident recommending this book to my students.  For parents, I recommend that eleven is about the youngest a child should read this. 

If you have any questions, read it yourself first, or read it with your child.  One of my assistant principals read this aloud with his ten-year-old and said they both enjoyed it a lot.  There are some good discussions you could have with your child about the material.  (And as a major motion picture event this year, your kid will likely want to experience it anyway.  At least the book provides more context and discussion than I expect the movie will.)

Stephen Olson teaches math at North Layton Junior High.  When not teaching math, he polices the halls and library of his school, ensuring that students partake of only the best reading material.  On the rare occasions he finds himself away from school, Stephen reads, writes, and writes about reading. You can follow him on Twitter at@MathTeacherGuy or email him at mathteacherguyATgmailDOTcom.

About Stephen

Stephen Olson teaches math at North Layton Junior High. When not teaching math, he polices the halls and library of his school, ensuring that students partake of only the best reading material. On the rare occasions he finds himself away from school, Stephen reads, writes, and writes about reading. You can follow him on Twitter


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