Gone are the days of pre-teens and teens reading The Baby Sitter’s Club, Sweet Valley High or even Flowers in the Attic. Dystopian and apocalyptic fiction is a very popular genre for this market, but I can’t help compare the violence of this genre to popular books in previous eras. I mean the darkness and sex in Flowers in the Attic was certainly scandalous, and discussed in hushed whispers by schoolgirls, but there wasn’t any violence of the sort found in the average apocalyptic book. I am not saying apocalyptic books should not have violence in them, a world ending event by nature is going to be brutal, I am just wondering if there is any kind of ceiling on how far an author will take things. I also realize that apocalyptic and dystopian novels also have lots of adult readers, people like me.
In the Ashfall series there was a high level of violence and gore. Former upstanding citizens turning into violent cannibals for one, but somehow it was manageable because the protagonist, Alex, reminded me of a young Atticus Finch. He had this real moral core even in the heart of darkness and therefore he balanced the violence of the story by providing hope. I guess that’s my problem with Endgame by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton, the story really doesn’t have anyone providing that strong moral center.
In this story generation after generation specific children from all over the world have been trained to be Players in case the Endgame happens in their generation. They need to be prepared to play The Endgame, in which the world will end except for the Player who wins and their tribe. Yes, in The Hunger Games, there were some counties? Who had trained their representatives, but in most cases the participants were just the unlucky ones who were chosen by lottery. The Players of Endgame are trained in violence and assassination since they were young, in fact, Players age out after their teens and a new Player fills their spot. These kids know what their role is and some even seem to relish it. It’s hard to find a sympathetic character as most of the Players have already killed prior to the start of Endgame, it kind of reminds me of pictures of young child soldiers in Africa. Their weapons are the toys of their childhood and the stakes are higher than Katniss saving her sister, each Player knows that by winning the rest of the world will die and only their people will make it.
I think the authors tried to inject some humanity into these young killers by having some of them form alliances, but this is not Survivor, the stakes are much higher. In the end even the ones who have worked together in an alliance will eventually have to kill their former partner. The other technique the authors try to use to make the characters more palatable is by adding a couple of ‘love’ stories. I use the term ‘love’ lightly as one couple consists of a bomb wielding psycho who kidnaps another Player who when she is around him cures his tics, and of course she falls in love with her captor and when she gets away, leaves him her fingernails, ew. The other relationship is of course a love triangle and the Player, Sarah Alopay, might be the only one who is relatable. She was the All-American girl, waiting to age out of being a Player, so she can go off to college and stay in a relationship with her high school boyfriend. Endgame finishes her fantasy of living a normal life and very quickly she gets involved with another Player, even while her faithful boyfriend follows her into hell. I get that playing the game changes a person, but all the more reason for her to stick with the boyfriend who represents all the good things she is trying to save by playing, rather than migrate to someone who represents the violence of the game.
Usually I need to really care about a character(s) to keep reading, but at nearly 500 pages for the first book alone, it was already a significant investment of time. Also, there is plenty of action and changes of scenery, and it’s not like the writing isn’t good, plus there are some mysteries to be solved and truths to be discovered. So I will continue with this series, but I hope in the next book the authors will get more inside the heads of the characters and flashback to their childhoods. What I think would be most interesting to explore is what it would be like to have the weight of this responsibility on such young shoulders. That just at the age where most kids are being told there isn’t any such thing as monsters under the bed, what is it like to find out that you will need to BECOME the monster to help your people survive?