Saturday, May 15, 2010

Charlie Higson: The Enemy, also Melissa de la Cruz: Blue Bloods

My daughter had her first two weeks of work experience through school this spring, and had landed it at Uppsala English Bookshop, of all brilliant places. In the staff kitchen there they have two bookshelves full of books that she was encouraged to peruse - mostly promotional copies judging from what she brought home. At the end of her two weeks she was given the books she had read as a present, and her first thought was "Great! I get to keep The Enemy!" and her second "Oh. I get to keep Blue Bloods." Possibly her third was "Why didn't I knuckle down and read more?", but who knows, maybe that was just me.

The Enemy (do check out the website, he's made a trailer and all, it's great!) is the first in a planned series for young adults, set in a dystopian future in which all adults over the age of 14 have succumbed to some sort of disease that either killed them or turned them into crazed, pustulent creatures who prey on the surviving children for food. (Yeah, zombies. Kind of.) This was only about a year or so ago, we find out. Things happened very fast.  Later in the book we come across a third group of adults, who seem to be able to remain normal if they stay in the dark - but since they also turn out to be predators it isn't certain how normal they are, really. I hope that avenue is explored more in the subsequent books.

We follow a group of kids who have barricaded themselves in a Waitrose supermarket. Every day a small party go out to scavenge for food, and the book starts with the scavenging party falling into a trap that surprisingly intelligent adults set for them, leaving one of them dead. When the survivors make it back to Waitrose they learn that one of the smaller kids was taken from the supermarket car park while they were out. They're feeling desperate and beleaguered. So when a strange boy arrives with the news that a group of kids are setting up a new, paradisical society at Buckingham palace they team up with kids from another supermarket nearby and trek across London. However, the palace turns out to be a disappointment, and the book ends with them leaving with their hopes set on another safe haven. 

I found this book very disturbing and ... well, moving, I suppose. I'm surprised at how much it's affected me. Now, the prose and story-telling technique are good, but not spectacular, so the charm lies a lot in identification and recognition. Since this is a new book, set in what could be the present or just a year or two in the future, an imaginative person such as myself can get swept away with the idea that this could really be happening or this could start happening tomorrow. The kids whisper in the dark about their lives before disaster struck. Did you have an iPod? We used to order take-out on Friday nights and watch a film. I loved to ride my bike in the park. One boy's parents abandoned him and his sister before they got too sick, kissing them goodbye and crying, rather then risk turning on them. One boy killed his mother when he saw that she was going feral. Another dreams of his mother's smiling face and then sees it morph into a bloodthirsty snarl. I sat reading this on the bus, sobbing my eyes out thinking of my own kids. Only the youngest two would survive according to the story premise, since they're under 14 (13 and 3, respectively). The idea of them having to fight the rest of us off really tore into me.

Yes, I know, it's more than a bit embarrassing, but there you are. I tried to calm myself by remembering that this is not that original (hello? Tribe? they also hid out in a shopping mall!) and what is this with 14 being a cut-off age? Biologically some sort of weight limit or hormonal development limit would make more sense. Didn't really work though. I was emotionally affected, that's just how it is. My poor babies!

Higson, who also wrote the Young Bond series apparently, not that I've read them, does a good job of writing a horrific and very gory book without too much of the stuff that is seriously disturbing. Like how youth gangs in the early days must have roamed the streets and done whatever they liked "drugs, drinking, shagging". There is not much mention of sex, for example, which could become seriously personal. "Our" group do come across another group that has babies, however. I get the feeling that it has a few levels - younger kids will only read it as a horror book but not pick up on the more adult, complicated themes. Alright, to sum up, there are plenty of quibbles with pace, character development and general logic, sure, but what the hell - this book has etched itself into my imagination which is more than can be said for a lot of literature.

Blue Bloods has to be mentioned even though I only read a chapter or so. It is utter, utter rubbish. Some sort of Gossip Girl meets vampires. The beautiful young teenager wearing [brand] shoes, a fabulous [brand] dress and flashing a [very expensive brand] bracelet glitters her fangs - that type of thing. It was horrible. This needed to be said.  I can't believe it touched the inside of a printing press.

I have to edit this on May 18th to add a link to a great blog post about Higson's visit to a school. In which he openly admits to stealing a lot if his ideas (that's how you get the best ones). Cheers for honesty! I'm hoping my nephew WILL read this book. Although he mightn't sleep for a week.


Ing said...

Well, the way I feel sometimes is "death to all 14 year olds!" so maybe I should read this book :-). Well, technically he's only 13 still but oh God, the hormones! Not a chance I'd get him to read a book like this either, it doesn't have "Microsoft" or "Xbox" in the title...

bani said...

Oh but blood, death and gore! And there are x-boxes in it. They just don't work. :P

Anonymous said...

I read The Au-Pairs (?) by Melissa de la Cruz a few years ago. It's very like how you describe Blue Bloods - these girls all act as au pairs to some rich families in the US and they're more interested in boys and partying than in looking after kids. Very snobby. It's a trend in YA books at the moment to have all ones protagonists wealthy and privileged, which is pretty boring.

bani said...

But you managed to finish it? Impressive. :)