Most Recent

T n YA – The Enemy

Whenever I read Scott Westerfeld’s first book in the Uglies series, I was wholly disappointed in the second and third acts of the book, because I felt as though it got away from what the book seemed to be about. It seemed as though it would be a Stepford Wives novel set in a dystopian future, but it turned out to be a novel about revolutionary politics among teenagers. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it definitely wasn’t what I expected.

After reading Charlie Higson’s The Enemy, I am coming to the conclusion that this sort of bait-and-switch is a trope of modern YA genre fiction. A novel set up as one thing often transitions into something else entirely halfway through, and the reader must either re-establish expectations or get left behind in a confused wake.

Whenever I read Scott Westerfeld’s first book in the Uglies series, I was wholly disappointed in the second and third acts of the book, because I felt as though it got away from what the book seemed to be about. It seemed as though it would be a Stepford Wives novel set in a dystopian future, but it turned out to be a novel about revolutionary politics among teenagers. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it definitely wasn’t what I expected.

After reading Charlie Higson’s The Enemy, I am coming to the conclusion that this sort of bait-and-switch is a trope of modern YA genre fiction. A novel set up as one thing often transitions into something else entirely halfway through, and the reader must either re-establish expectations or get left behind in a confused wake.

The Enemy is not a bad novel. In fact, it is as well-written as any of the works I’ve chosen for the T n YA series, but it definitely becomes something other than the novel I began to read at the beginning of the month. While The Enemy starts as a dark, violent horror novel not unlike 28 Days Later, with parents taking the roles of the rage-zombies, and teenagers, being largely impervious to the infection, fighting them off to survive, the book quickly transitions into something else I can’t even describe. However, common ideas from nearly all YA genres are present, least among them being social class, popularity, rival groups, unrequited love, and the general distrust of adults (and, of course, other teenagers).

The first act of the book is great in all the ways that a(n ostensible) zombie novel can be: it is tense, dark, violent, and unrelenting. Characters are killed off at random, and none of them feels altogether safe to survive the whole novel. The main characters reside in an abandoned London supermarket, and they travel into the various surrounding neighborhoods in order to gather perpetually diminishing supplies. Not only do they have to avoid the adults, boil-infested creatures hungry for brains, but they must contend with other factions within the city.

I can readily admit that it is an interesting premise, but just as readers are becoming accustomed to the world and the environment, the characters are compelled to leave. Now, it is understandable in a virus novel like this that people be somewhat nomadic, but the novel takes no time to breathe before readers are whisked off through the streets of London in search for another place – I am avoiding spoilers as much as possible.

Leaving the relative safety of their home wouldn’t be so jarring if the novel maintained its focus, but it loses the particulars of the genre and becomes something wholly different. The adults, for most of the group, lose their power as the villains of the book because they largely disappear. We are meant, I suppose, to interpret this to mean that “people are more dangerous than zombies,” but I’m not convinced that it works, entirely.

The novel sort of devolves into an apparition of Lord of the Flies, and even though I can admit that it would be an interesting take on the zombie genre, none of the characters in The Enemy express the baser attitudes that boys in William Golding’s supreme novel reach. The illusion of society and properness is what is best laid bare by postapocalyptic fiction, but The Enemy does not seek to use its pages for even a mild satire, or else I missed a point.

The broader idea (of juxtaposing children against parents) is also an interesting idea largely abandoned by the second act. There is something inherently provocative in young adult fiction of lifting adults to the pedestal of being the ultimate villain – it is the very seed of rock and roll – and even though the concept is overused, if it is the basis for the novel, then it seems as though it should be fully explored. The beginning of The Enemy proposes such an idea, but the second and third acts’ journeys displaces the satirical / metaphorical element for something quite a bit more literal.

Perhaps it is a fault of mine that I expected the novel to be about the struggle between infected adults and immune children, because that is what I was led to believe, but maybe the novel is about too many things and should have focused on any one of them. The Enemy turns into a weird novel about group power dynamics and elites vs. commoners and that sort of thing. It introduces a dozen new characters and then tries to make the reader care about their motives, but it’s far too late by then. I mean, one is supposed to see the hope for a repaired society, but the novel doesn’t even tackle that idea with any fidelity. It is a novel that skims along the surface of a lot of things and does not delve too deeply into any one of them. There is an interesting subplot to the book involving one of the characters, and it is by far more interesting and frightening than anything the main plot addresses.

In looking at the series, I saw that the second book, The Dead, is actually a prequel and may deal with the outbreak, which is much more aligned with my expectations for what the first book was supposed to be. Don’t get me wrong; I love the later dynamics in, say, The Walking Dead, and could read fifty issues about them putting society back together, or building a makeshift town, but they have earned that need for an upturn, for a catharsis. This book seems to abandon its premise before it has a chance to fully explore it. The reason that you enjoy people overcoming severe odds is that readers see them struggle for so long that the characters have earned something beneficial. One does not get that sense in reading The Enemy.

However, I will say that I’m going to read The Dead in the hopes that it will capture the spirit of what I find to be a truly compelling premise. It just needs the right follow-through to match it.

]]>

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*