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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Creepy-Fun The Enemy Has Me Double-Checking the Locks

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After trembling through more than one book-induced nightmare, I made a vow: I will never read a scary book at night, especially if (A) My husband is out of town or (B) I am the only adult in the house who is awake. I've lived by this rule for years. Yet, somehow, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I found myself whipping through the last third of Charlie Higson's dystopian horror novel, The Enemy. The combination of 32 oz. of Baja Blast and a 3-hour afternoon nap had me wide awake at 2 a.m. What better time to read about zombies, right? Um, riiiiight.
The story opens a year or so after a strange disease hits the streets of London. In the city, and presumably across the globe, adults are decomposing. They're still alive - sort of. As their flesh slowly rots away, they lumber through the streets in packs looking for stray children to eat. The moaning, drooling grown-ups aren't too smart, but they're strong and their constant hunger makes them determined. They're getting more aggressive by the day.

London's young survivors are holed up in vacant supermarkets and other buildings, leaving their fortresses only to scavenge for food in the empty city. Even with the adults dragging off kids every day, there are too many mouths to feed. It's becoming clear to Arran, the leader of the Waitrose gang, that they're going to have to move on before they starve to death. But where can they possibly go? They can't exactly hop online to find a safe place - as far as they know, the whole world's filled with slathering, kid-crunching zombies.

When a strange kid in a weird patchwork coat shows up at Waitrose offering a solution, Arran's more than a little skeptical. The new boy, Jester, swears he's part of a group living at Buckingham Palace. He offers Polaroid proof showing the unbelievable - kids, lots of kids, looking clean, well-fed, and safe. Living on the mean streets has taught Arran not to trust anyone, but if what Jester's saying is true, he could save his whole group. His fighters could relax, they could all eat fresh food, sleep in real beds, live like royalty. A vote decides it. To Buckingham Palace they go. Only getting there won't be that easy - and surviving there might be harder still.

The Enemy starts with an unnerving sentence: "Small Sam was playing in the parking lot behind the Waitrose supermaket when the grown-ups took him" (3). With a beginning as auspicious as that, it's probably no surprise that, with each succeeding page, the story gets more and more chilling. Although I found myself laughing at certain passages ("A parent might have grounded you, a teacher might have kept you after school, and the police might have arrested you, but none of them would have tried to eat you, like the grown-ups who wandered the streets these days" [19]"), the book's definitely spooky. It's also a fast-paced thrill ride with plenty of horror-typical blood and gore. Character development is not The Enemy's strong point, but the kids are, for the most part, young and helpless enough to garner immediate sympathy. The older ones are tough, brave, and fiercely protective of the younger children, making them admirable as well. Although Higson doesn't divulge all the secrets of his freaky dystopian world - leaving me with plenty of unanswered questions - it had me convinced enough to keep flipping through pages at 3:00 in the morning. And double check all my locks. And make sure all the windows were secure. And peek outside to confirm the neighborhood was as zombie-free as it seemed.
The Enemy isn't as complex as some of the other YA dystopian books out there, but it's definitely a fun, creepy read. It moves quickly, but even so, I recommend starting it early in the morning because, trust me, you're going to want to finish it long before dark.
(Readalikes: Reminds me a lot of the Gone series by Michael Grant and a bit of The Forest of Hands and Teeth books by Carrie Ryan)
Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for mild, but frequent language (no F-bombs); violence; and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of The Enemy from the generous folks at Disney/Hyperion. Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a good read -- it might be a good pick for my son, who is INTO zombies right now. I hesitate to give him adult zombie books, because I don't know how intense the carnage will be. But this YA/PG-13 rated book sounds safe enough. :-) Thanks for the great review.


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