The public library in my hometown is incredibly small, and I often would work my way through an entire section of books over a few months. I finished all the interesting children’s books, then the small chapter books, then the young adult section, and then the fantasy/science fiction section. Orson Scott Card was the last sci-fi author I discovered before my teachers pressured me to stop reading it my freshman year, and I’ve always loved his work. Ender’s Game was the first one I read, mainly because the library had the entire series–a rare find in my small town. Although I was 14 at the time, I could instantly identify with six-year-old Ender Wiggins, and must have read the book four or five times in high school because I couldn’t forget the story of Ender.

Ender's Game

Ender’s Game is the first book of the Ender Wiggins Saga, a series about children leading wars in space. Of course that’s about as simplistic of an explanation as you can give, because it’s much more about how intelligent and adult children can be and how well (or not) they can handle the pressure adults put on them…the laser guns and aliens are just a bonus. Ender’s Game starts at the end of the war against the buggers, ant-like aliens that have attacked the human world. Because children are willing to take risks and think outside the box, the government starts training potential military leaders in a space station Battle School. Cut off from their families and friends until graduation, these elite children are the Earth’s only hope for survival.

But Ender’s difficult life didn’t start with the pressures of Battle School. He is a “third,” a third child in a world that legally limits families to two children only. Both of Ender’s siblings (his brother Peter and sister Valentine) had extremely high potential but were ultimately unable to enter Battle School. In hopes that a third child would combine Peter and Valentine’s best characteristics, the US government allowed Ender’s parents to have another child. In a society that claimed his existence was illegal and immoral, Ender grew up trusting very few people. Even in Battle School, where Ender quickly became the most successful commander in school history, Ender was systematically isolated from his fellow students.

Yet Ender’s Game is less about children leading space wars and more about the maturity and intelligence of children. Although the main character starts as a six-year-old, the way Ender thinks is barely related to similarly aged characters in picture books. Ender may be six years old, but he is as self-aware and critical as any adult. His life, although set in space, are something any gifted child can relate to: he is praised by adults for his intelligence, but still treated like a small child incapable of making decisions. In the introduction, Card mentions the strong reactions from young readers who identified so strongly with the character of Ender:

Of course, I’m always glad when people like a story of mine; but something much more important was going on here. These readers found that Ender’s Game was not merely a “mythic” story, dealing with general truths, but something much more personal: To them, Ender’s Game was an epic tale, a story that expressed who they were as a community, a story that distinguished them from other people around them. They didn’t love Ender, or pity Ender (a frequent  adult response); they were Ender, all of them. Ender’s experience was not foreign or strange to them; in their minds, Ender’s life was echoed in their own lives. The truth of the story was not truth in general, but their truth (xxii).

Although written by an adult, Ender’s Game so perfectly articulates the way gifted children think about themselves. I’m by no means smart enough to lead a world’s military into battle, but I was always one of the most talented students in my classes. I could understand Ender’s isolation, his longing for the easy friendship the other children shared. And that’s the strength of Card’s writing–he makes a child leading the human race in a war against aliens an instant confidant and best friend.

Ender’s Game gets better every time I read it, despite not being in the target audience anymore. Ender is one of my favorite characters of all time, my beat up copy of the book is one I plan on keeping for a long time. I’ve encouraged my brother and my friends to read Ender’s Game, and would honestly encourage most everyone to read this book. For those who understand the frustration of being different, singled out by parents and teachers, you can’t find a better friend than Ender.

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