The Enemy


Author: Charlie Higson

Publication: 2009, Puffin

Pages: 406

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Rating for Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: A disease swept across the world, killing most of the adults and turning those who survived into brainless, hungry monsters. Only children under 14 are left, and now they have to fight to survive. Maxie and Arran lead a small group of survivors. For the past year they’ve been holed up in a supermarket, scavenging food and battling roaming packs of grown-ups. But food is running low and the grown-ups get bolder every day. It’s only a matter of time before they’re all dead. Then Jester shows up at their door, a kid with a wild claim – there’s a safe haven in Buckingham Palace. Food, protection, and everything they need. The kids gear up for a dangerous journey across London, but even if they reach the palace alive, the biggest may challenge still lie ahead of them.

Age of Main Character: 9 to 14

What I Liked the Most: Higson provides a cool new take on the zombie novel, where the danger goes beyond a world filled with the walking dead. When all the grown-ups are zombies, and only the kids are left, it takes survival to a whole new level. The Enemy is Lord of the Flies on a mass scale – with kids battling both adults and each other across the whole of London. And Higson doesn’t shy away from controversy. He isn’t afraid to write scenes of diseased grown-ups tearing into the flesh of young children, or cannibalism, of kids fighting to the death over territory.

The other great thing here is that the grown-ups aren’t your traditional zombies. They’re not dead at all – just so diseased that their brains have been reduced to base instinct – fear, anger, hunger. They’re shambling, boil and pus covered remnants of their old selves. But they’re not dead, and not all of them are equally sick. Some have retained the ability to think, to plan – to build an army for the sole purpose of eating the last of the kids.

Plus, Higson keeps referring to them as mothers and fathers – as in “An enraged father bundled into them, knocking Deke into the vending machine and smashing the glass.” Since the grown-ups spend all their time trying to hunt and eat kids, referring to them as mothers and fathers adds an extra level of freak to the text.

What I Liked the Least: There are a lot of characters here, and Higson hasn’t really chosen one main protagonist. That means a lot of switching back and forth between different points of view. For a few paragraphs we might be in Maxie’s head, then it’s Arran’s, and then on to another character. That got distracting and a bit hard to follow, and I never felt fully attached to any one character.

How Good was the Action? It’s a mixed bag. The scenes involving a boy named Small Sam, who’s alone and on the run from grown-ups, are terrifyingly good. Higson got me right inside Sam’s head, and rarely let up the pressure as he escapes through rubble strewn streets and dark subway tunnels. And every time he thinks he’s finally safe, a new enemy is just around the corner. The underground scenes were especially fierce, pulsing with darkness and danger. Absolutely top notch.

On the other hand, the big battles with the grown-ups weren’t always that engaging because Higson keeps flipping from one kid to the next in an attempt to show the whole battle. It felt too jumpy, and I was never with any one kid long enough to feel their fear or get caught up in the fight.  Worse yet, other than Small Sam I was attached to any of them enough to really care what happened.

How Engaging was the Story? Aside from all the head hopping this was a fun read. I really got into Small Sam’s story – his harrowing, almost endless escape from death. But even with an overabundance of characters, it was hard not to get caught up in the story of Maxie and Arran as they battle their way through the streets of London and arrive at the palace only to face a new and insidious threat. Whether it was danger, intrigue, or pure action, there was always something to drive the story forward. Bloody creative fun.

Profanity: Some Most of it’s British profanity that won’t mean all that much to American readers, but there are a few uses of the “B” word.

Sex: None.

Violence: Yes – and it can be quite gory. People get stabbed, bitten, and much worse. And there are more than a few references to cannibalism – both from the zombies and from surviving people.

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