Editorial: Is Ender’s Game a YA novel?

Earlier today the news reached me that NPR had cut Ender’s Game from the Best YA (Young Adult) Fiction Poll. The reason given on the NPR website reads:

“The judges cut Ender’s Game for the same reason — Ender himself is young, but the book’s violence isn’t appropriate for young readers.” The same reason cited was in reference to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and reads “Though the language was relatively simple, the themes were entirely adult.”

Although I have personally never considered Ender’s Game a YA (young adult) novel, having read many of the books on the list, it’s interesting that The Hunger Games (series), The Lord of The Rings and Twilight (series) make the list after this exclusion. Make of this what you will.

This news got me thinking, what is a YA novel and does Ender’s Game qualify as one? So I suppose we need to define what a YA novel is. I tried to find a definition from NPR and this is as close as I got:

“By general agreement, the YA years are 12 to 18. Our panel drew a very clear line between YA books and those they considered “mid-grade;” targeted to readers aged 10 to 12 […] There is, after all, no objective test for teen fiction…The judges looked at qualities such as a book’s themes, the age of its main characters, its reading level. But in the end, the most important test was often whether a given book is one that teens themselves have claimed — whether they do, in fact, voluntarily read it.”

So with no objective test they employed judges to cast the specter of their (less than objective) opinion on the matter. I kept looking and you wouldn’t believe it but I think I found an objective definition of what YA fiction is. I know it isn’t really the kind of place anyone looks for such definitions but it’s good old Wikipedia to the rescue, read the full entry here but I’ll just quote the first line. “Young-adult fiction or young adult literature (often abbreviated as YA), also juvenile fiction, is fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents and young adults.” I’m not sure how hard NPR looked, but I’d suggest next time they try Wikipedia.

So using the above definition of YA fiction, does Ender’s Game qualify? The criteria are – written for, published, or marketed to young adults. Ender’s Game was not written for young adults, in the Introduction to Ender’s Shadow, Orson Scott Card writes ” For many years, I have gratefully watched as Ender’s Game has grown in popularity, especially among school-age readers. Though it was never intended as a young-adult novel, it has been embraced by many in that age group…” As Mr. Card says it wasn’t written as a YA novel so we can say no on the first  criteria. We can take the second and third criteria and look at them together. At the top of this post is the current cover on copies of Ender’s Game for sale in the UK, and it looks a lot like a YA cover to me. Also it is tagged as YA on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, so that is a yes on the last criteria.

The point being, Ender’s Game wasn’t written as YA fiction, but it can be categorized as such, and I think that considering the books that make the grade, it is plain wrong for NPR to claim Ender’s Game is too violent to be placed in the poll. Have you read The Hunger Games? What do you think?


Editorial: Is Ender’s Game a YA novel? — 12 Comments

  1. Enders game reads more like a computer game that has consequences than the Hunger Games which is blantently children killing each other as entertainment. Not all books written about young people are for young people but when I read Ender’s Game I wish I’d discovered it 15 years earlier as I identified so much with Ender when I was the age he is in the book as an adult reader of YA fiction I would concider Ender’s Game a YA book.

    • Because, as an adult, you strongly identified with a character who is a young adult, you think that trumps Card’s Hugo & Nebula Awards for Best Novel? Notice the lack of a Y or an A there. Your identification is common among all it’s readers & means Card’s a Great Writer. Is Huck Finn YA? Is Lolita YA? Oliver Twist?

      Card’s Introduction to Ender’s Game, written 6 years after its publication & dated March 1991, addresses your issue. Quoting Card, “… never in my entire childhood did I feel like a child. I felt like a person all along–the same person that I am today. I never felt that I spoke childishly. I never felt that my emotions and desires were somehow less real than adult emotions and desires. And in writing Ender’s Game, I forced the audience to experience the lives of these children from that perspective–the perspective in which their feelings and decisions are just as real and important as any adult’s.”

      It also operates on many levels. It is used to explore the nature of leadership in courses taught at the Marine Univ. at Quantico. Further, Card’s Introduction explains: “Watuga College, the interdisciplinary studies program at Appalachian State University–as UNmilitary a community as you could hope to find!–to talk about problem-solving and the self-creation of the individual. A graduate student in Toronto explored the political ideas in Ender’s Game. A writer and critic at Pepperdine has seen Ender’s Game as, in some ways, religious fiction.”

      Having read nearly half of it to my own children, one a teen, I can attest that the political antics of Locke & Demosthenes are above general YA level (there are always those of us who read much, early, and were able to enjoy adult novels as “mere young adults”). Much of Ender’s more subtle psychological, intercommunicative power plays, defensive & offensive, are also beyond the ken of your average YA reader.

      Turning to film: the protagonists & majority of characters in Wes Anderson’s masterpiece “Moonrise Kingdom” are young adults, but this particular work of art is by no means a “young adult” film.

      And don’t get me started on The Hunger Games. It is most certainly NOT blatantly kids killing kids for entertainment–not from the readers’ perspective anyway–though the games do serve that function, among other functions, all political, in the book/film. Google “bread and circuses”. The games are the Roman gladiatorial arena, pacifying the citizens. Note the Roman names of most all the flamboyantly wealthy top fraction of those in the Republic of Panem lucky enough to live in the Capital (our world’s top 2% who own like >90% of the wealth). The author’s father was military and would explain to her & siblings not just the details of historical battles but the reasons and backstories of the battles. All of this comes together more clearly as the series progresses. Sometimes you can’t understand an early book in a series without reading the series: best example being Harry Potter–the all-ages LOTR-level Classic that will last because Rowling’s 7 years of pre-planning all 7 books resulted in a deep-chord-striking saga that ages with its protagonists, growing darker & deeper & more adult with each book. Repeated readings bring out interconnected details of all kinds that never fail to blow the mind. The UK publishes them w/ optional adult covers. The NYT Best Seller lists were artificially segregated into Adult & YA in order to kick Rowling off (too many adults reading) & resume their symbiotic relationship w/ the usual bestseller suspects & their easily definable genres.

      Finally, while you could call Twilight (Book 1) YA, you couldn’t call Breaking Dawn (Book 4) YA. Bella’s out of high school, gets married, becomes a mommy & a vampire at the same time, & raises an über-rapidly growing child of precocious intelligence & power along with the silliest name in fiction. Marriage, birth, parenthood, high-stakes negotiation between two armies on the brink of a battle–this is not the light fare of YA.

      Part of the YA confusion is due to both Card and Meyer being Mormon and thus writing largely less sexual & “profane” books than your average non-Mormon writer. Ditto Rowling, a confirmed Member of The Church of Scotland (Anglican) since a teen, which she did on her own, w/o her family. And, after Deathly Hallows, she openly spoke about the intentional Christian content of the Potter books, which she wrote in such a way that they could be enjoyed with or without one taking notice of the spiritual undercurrent. Take THAT you Fundamentalist-book-burners who can’t distinguish between English Literary fantasy magic and the kind of “witchcraft” that scares the bejeezus outta Fundamentalists and is taught in masses of published manuals, none of which, of course, bear any resemblance to the traditional English Literary magic of Potter, and none of which, of course, have ever been consulted by any dolt of a Fundamentalist Potter-hater to see if Potter actually did “teach” magic or “lead” to the occult–they wouldn’t want to lose a focus for their hatred, so they avoid all relevant knowledge. According to the books (were they true), being sucked into magic is impossible. Either you’ve magical blood in your veins or you do not. And you know by age 11, when you get your owl from Hogwarts. Otherwise–no magic! No danger! And it doesn’t say what the U.S.’s school is, just the U.K.’s, France’s, & presumably Germany’s. Can’t recall.

  2. I think NPR was wrong to drop Ender’s Game. 
    They say that “in the end, the most important test was often whether a given book is one that teens themselves have claimed – whether, they do, in fact, voluntarily read it.” Does the past 27 years of being favored amongst many of the YA age group not prove how favored it is? Though, it not having meant to be written for YA it attracted them either way. By it’s story, characters, even its marketing (i.e. the many covers it has adapted through out the years). 
    Also, I think comparing EG with The Hunger Games is the most precise in this debate. What made NPR choose to drop EG and not THG? Personally, I believe, in the way NPR judges have considered, that THG should have been dropped as well. Now don’t get me wrong I am a HUGE fan of THG. Me saying this is to make a point. THG is at the same level as EG. Maybe even higher. Both books share a universal message. Both are unanimously favored in the YA age group (maybe one more than the other, but they stand in the top). They both consist of children under the age of 18. The main characters are children taking on roles that force them into a labor of adults and are stripped from their rights. THG has more violent and descriptive scenes in the arena than the battle room and the deaths of Stilson and Bonzo. I could go on but all this is already news.
    NPR claiming EG is too violent is a matter of an excuse. I don’t think EG should have been dropped. It is amongst the popular titles for YA Science Fiction, along with THG. It shares the same or less percentage of violence as does THG. NPR judges need to get a handle on their criteria because the disqualification of some novels don’t make sense. 

  3. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hunger games, but it is ten times more violent than Ender’s game. In ender’s game, 2 kids die (ok, and a few million buggers), but even though they describe th fight, they don’t get into detail about the way the body looked and  Ender NEVER actually contemplates killing a human being beforehand. There are also some other fights but no one is seriously injured. In the first book of the hunger games trilogy alone, twenty two children are killed, some of the deaths are described in detail. One of these is when a girl gets stung by genetically mutated wasps, her body is described as bloated and oozing green slime, the main character breaks thid girl’s fingers in order to get a bow, and her ribs to get an arrow. Later we find out that the girl didn’t look quite as bad, it was a terror induced hallucination. I’m not going to even begin with mockingjay, so many characters died that it was hard to keep track. Th point I’m trying to make is that compared to the hunger games Ender’s game is not violent at all. The Lord of the ring is also MUCH more scary and violent than all of the EG books together. |There is no way that Ender’s game is more violent than any of these books. It is an amazing story with an interesting plot, strong characters, great moral lessons and it inspires you to use your talent’s, to develop them and to be the best person you can be. I would recommend this to anyone who has the ability to read and understand, whether that person is twelve or thirty. I was fourteen when I first read it. I am now fifteen and I have reread it more times than I have cared to count. Ender’s game deserves this award and many more.

  4. The first time I read Ender’s game was when I was 15 or so and later found out some friends of mine were going to read it for their English class because it was part of the curriculum.. Sorry but that screams YA to me.

  5. I personally feel that enders game can be considered YA (as it will appeal to the younger ages, (school boy, battle school etc) the same as say harry potter appeals to the youger people), athough i would say the whole ender saga isnt YA as it tackles some difficult topics (genecide etc). I read them all when i was 13-15 and again more recently when i was younger i found EG was my favourite. Now i like the later ones. I think different age groups will get different things from it which makes it great becasue every time i reread the saga i get something different from it.

  6. In my opinion, Ender’s game as a stand alone book could be considered a young adult novel. However, the series as a whole is more mature than the first book. For example, a few years ago when I was in middle school, I read EG and was looking for the sequels, but the librarian told me that the books were too mature for the middle school level (I ended up getting the majority of them elsewhere). The Ender/Shadow series is an incredible collection of books, but they are, as Mr. Card himself puts it, “It was never intended to be a young adult novel”.

  7. I agree that the violence aspect is equal to many other books under the YA category, my only problem with the book being read by 12 and 13 year olds is the bad language and several racial references. My son was recommended the book (11 going on 12) by a friend of mine who is a huge fan. I always read my son’s books first, however juvenile they are, so I know what he’s reading and we can discuss it after he is finished any book. During this entire book (which I personally, as an adult, thoroughly enjoyed) I had to keep asking myself who was the intended target audience. Yes the main character is 6 starting out but would it be ok for a 6 year old to read this? No. So it was confusing to me as to whom the author was trying to reach. Adults? Teens? Or kids the same age as the characters.
    It is a good book, but Hunger Games, Twilight, etc do not seem to have as much harsh language and I was surprised that the N word was used at all. My son has no idea what the word means. I guess eventually he will hear it and ask about it but I’m on the fence of whether it would be ok for him to read this book. If I do allow him to read, our discussions about it will be much more in depth than any other book he’s read.
    I think every kid is different and it’s just up to the parents to decide if their kid is mature enough to understand the moral of the story. But I absolutely recommend parents to read first before making the decision. This goes for the other books like Hunger Games and the Twilight series as well. I wish my parents had read Lord of the Flies along with me when I was younger so as to get their thoughts and guidance. That book is as disturbing as any of these other controversial books in today’s media.

  8. I never thought of Ender’s Game as anything but a Science Fiction novel. Of course, I didn’t read it until I was an adult, but I did read a lot of Science Fiction novels oriented toward teenagers when (and before) I was one (Heinlein in particular), and Ender’s Game is simply in a different category, in my opinion.
    As to violence, yes, The Hunger Games is more violent. However, the reason cited is “adult themes”, not “violence”. Part of this may be the political situation and Ender’s siblings’ actions. Part of this is the moral issue of Ender being deceived into committing xenocide by being told he is just playing a training game.
    The film focuses on Ender and ignores the politics (thus, his parents got permission for a third child in the film; perhaps I haven’t read the book for too long, but I seem to recall that Ender was, in fact, illegal but tolerated because the Fleet wanted to see if he could be useful), but not the moral issue, so it looks a lot more like a YA story than the book does.

  9. So the author of this article is using the fact that the most recent version of the cover “looks” YA as evidence that the book qualifies as YA? *sigh* and people get paid for this?

  10. Although every seems to be arguing that HG is much more violent than EG, which it is, logistically, what makes EG a lot more violent is the fact that, in HG, the motives behind the killing it pretty self explanatory. EG treads lightly and makes all the deaths a million times more personally. In my opinion, I think YA should be redefined. “Young Adult” my foot. Most “YA” books are books I enjoyed between the ages of 9-12. While I still enjoy them, I read them a lot less now. At age fourteen, I’m reading up on Asimov and OSC and Mitchell and Matt Haig, etc. I guess these would classify as Young Adult books, but if you were to search for YA book examples, you’d only get PJO, HP, HG, etc. Those books were a lot more enjoyable when I focused less on the storyline and more on the fact that, well, I could read. Then again, my tastes in books are greatly influenced by my friends who are more cynical/nerdy than a “typical teenager” is. (e.g., my best friend is reading Sophie’s World, which is actually too much for me.)
    P.S. Sorry for all the abbreviations. HG = Hunger Games, EG = Ender’s Game, YA = Young Adult, Asimov = Isaac Asmiov, OSC = Orson Scott Card, Mitchell = David Mitchell, PJO = Percy Jackson Olympus, HP = Harry Potter.

  11. Enders Game really isn’t Young Adult fare, though many kids can enjoy it, and some will learn something from it. To me, it is basically subversive of the idea that kids should take what their elders say as if it was etched in stone. By the end of that part of the story it is clear that all of the adults were lying to the kid, culminating in them using his talents to destroy an entire alien race. If one reader came to cast a doubting eye on some of the stuff he or she has been told the book has slid right past YA to being a valuable tool for a child’s growth.
    And, anyway, what does NPR know, anyway?

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