It happens to just about everyone. Sometime in your early to mid-teen years, you wake up one day and realize that, gradually, every adult you know has become a stranger to you. You have begun to understand the fears, jealousies, and appetites that really motivate grownups, and you are appalled. They in turn suddenly do not recognize you as the child they have harbored lo these many years. And so your life becomes a series of surreptitious forays punctuated by skirmish - if your paths cross, there will be conflict, so you do your best to skirt their presence, to avoid their taint. You forge alliances with your friends or toughen up and go it alone, hoping against hope that you will make it.
Hmm. Maybe I'm overstating it. It's been a while, after all - all I can remember is being truly freaked out when my father threw my Kings of the Wild Frontier LP down the stairs because, I think, he was afraid I was on drugs. And my own kids won't be prompting me to mystifying moments of violence for a good 5 years yet.
Charlie Higson certainly sees adolescence that way, though. In The Enemy, all the grownups have turned into zombie-like cannibals. Some plague or something. The kids live in fortified big box stores and send out foraging parties to look for food and weapons. Yup. It's excellent.
So, with a premise like that, I could almost compose the rest of this review as a checklist - as long as the action sequences are tight (check), the setting is cool (check), the characters are brave and strong but believable (check check check), you've got yourself a thrilling book, right? In fact, I wanted to review this book via chat with my Psychic Friend, Eerily Similar Paula. But it's an odd thing - IMing saves us time and helps us get our act together, but planning to chat just never works. It's a shame. I kind of imagine the chat would have gone like this:
YNL: You have teenager boys in your house - is this too scary?
ESP: Pretty scary... but this is for an audience that watches the Saw movies
YNL: Yikes. Ok then
ESP: I know! love the department store!
YNL: I love that he calls the adults 'grownups'
ESP: The kids call them 'fathers' and 'mothers'
YNL: nice touch - not losing sight that they used to be families
ESP: and how horrible families can be in the first place
ESP: Excellent girl characters
YNL: I thought of The Matrix, with that
ESP: Have you seen the British cover?
YNL: Lemme look...
YNL: Better, you're right.
Charlie Higson writes the Young Bond books, which are quite underrated and extremely popular with certain segments of the teen and preteen boy population. I scored a copy of this book at Book Expo in May. I was staying with friends, and when I got back to their apartment we all flipped through the books, pulling out titles that their 13-year-old daughter, an avid avid avid avid reader, might like. Their 15-year-old son sat out that little session, happy to inhabit the couch with his PS3. He looked up, however, when I read the flap copy on The Enemy out loud to his dad.
"What's that?" he asked. His parents and I, startled, looked at each other.
"Do you... do you want it?" I offered. He shrugged. This is a kid whose reading has consisted solely of game guides for the last few years.
"Yeah," he finally answered. "If you don't want it, I'll take it."
I wanted it - a book that appeals to a fifteen-year-old boy who loves video games? Heck yeah I wanted it! But I handed it over, resolved to get another copy. That kid is not, as far as we know, one of those kids who thinks his parents are diseased cannibals, but who knows? It could happen at any time. And in the meantime, he will have an exciting book in which to become engrossed.
"Engrossed." I just got that. Because the parents are gross? Heh. Gosh I can't wait til my boys are teenagers.