Orson Scott Card (2002).
NY: TOR Books. ISBN: 978-0765342294
I am not a huge fan of sci-fi (except for Battlestar Galactica, secret geek love of my heart). I picked this book up thinking to myself "Ugh, I should probably read a sci-fi book, just so I'll know more about it and be able to recommend it, and this one is as popular as a jock in high school, so why not." Imagine my surprise when I found myself TOTALLY digging Ender's Game. I think what I love about BSG is what I found myself loving about Ender's Game: the psychological drama and mind games, and a story that doesn't revel in weird, heavy science fiction fantasy things. This, along with seeing the world through Ender's too-young-to-be-this-old eyes, marveling at his preternatural military genius, and trying to figure out who is really playing whom, is what really hooked me.
Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is six years old when he is taken from his family to go into intensive military training at Battleschool, a deep space training school for future military leaders. We learn from dialogue between high ranking military officials what Ender himself will learn soon enough: that he is the only hope for survival in the war between humanity and the buggers, an alien race which is seemingly hell-bent upon destroying humanity and colonizing earth. Ender leaves behind his beloved sister Valentine, and his maniacal and vicious older brother Peter, both geniuses in their own right. Ender advances rapidly through his training, pushed on by his own desire to win and his empathy, which allows him to understand others before using this to destroy them, should they prove to be an enemy. By the time he is 9, he has advanced to become the youngest army leader in the school, and shortly thereafter is promoted to Commander school - about 6 years ahead of schedule. He has revolutionized the way simulated battle games, the pinnacle of Battleschool education, are played. The teachers are unabashedly brutal with him, constantly pushing him to almost the breaking point, all in the hopes of turning him into the heroic commander they so desperately need to win. Before long, the lines between the game and reality are blurred. The ending to this part of the story is a nice twist, and while the real ending to the story is pretty good, it feels somewhat rushed compared to the rest of the story.
Best for: Because this book is somewhat complex, psychologically and politically, I'd hold off on recommending it to anyone under 13 that I didn't know well, simply because (and this may be a generalization) I'm not sure how many younger kids would fully understand the manipulations and games throughout. That being said, I'd probably still recommend it to eager younger readers who enjoy sci-fi because it is a rare sure thing. I think this is a fantastic book, and I feel confident about YA boys digging this (gender stereotypes, damn you!), along with girls.
Book talk hook: This is a book that I'd definitely need to gauge the crowd for. For example, I could see this as a military book (more of a sell for a crowd of younger, more reluctant reader boys), a psychological thriller ala the short story the Game (an older audience, both girls and boys), or as a straight sci-fi adventure (for sci-fi fans of all ages). I'd skew my summary of the plot towards the intended audience, and maybe to some Q&A type of things ("How many of you here think you can save the world? How many of you could outsmart a grown up at six?" etc.)