Teen dystopian fiction is rapidly becoming just as popular as all the vampire novels that appeared after Twilight was published. A lot of this can be traced to The Hunger Games and its runaway popularity. No matter how the craze got started, you can’t deny that there are some excellent stories getting readers’ attention. One of them is Ann Aguirre’s Enclave, her first teen novel and an outstanding addition to the genre.
(Description nicked from BN.com.)
“New York City has been decimated by war and plague, and most of civilization has migrated to underground enclaves, where life expectancy is no more than the early 20’s. When Deuce turns 15, she takes on her role as a Huntress, and is paired with Fade, a teenage Hunter who lived Topside as a young boy. When she and Fade discover that the neighboring enclave has been decimated by the tunnel monsters—or Freaks—who seem to be growing more organized, the elders refuse to listen to warnings. And when Deuce and Fade are exiled from the enclave, the girl born in darkness must survive in daylight, in the ruins of a city whose population has dwindled to a few dangerous gangs. As the two are guided by Fade’s long-ago memories, they face dangers, and feelings, unlike any they’ve ever known.”
This novel is, inevitably, being compared to Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, which I think does Enclave an injustice. Yes, both novels take place in a dystopian future world, decimated by wars and disease, but the two stories diverge from that premise. In Enclave, there are no games, and there are no prizes for being the best. In this book, survival is deadly serious and the only prize is your continued existence. In its own way, it’s harsher than The Hunger Games, because there are no witnesses to Deuce and Fade’s struggles—whatever happens, happens, and that’s just the way it is. The Games may be more horrific because of the spectator aspect, but there’s something more tragic about the fight to live when nobody really cares if you do or not.
Although it’s never stated outright, there’s a subtle zombie aspect in this novel. The Freaks are said to be humanoid, but they live on carrion and catch and kill living humans when possible. Readers don’t get many details about the plague that ran through (at least) the East Coast, but it’s a safe guess that the Freaks are altered humans, or their descendants. We have no idea how long it’s been since the event, but readers don’t really need that much concrete information. The story holds up just fine by being in the moment and not worrying too much about the broader picture—at least for the first part of the tale.
Aguirre builds an interesting and disturbing society for the underground enclave. She makes readers see where the rules started out as good ones, but over time have been corrupted and used for other ends. Making Deuce into a teen character plays nicely into that, as teens are often seen as rebellious. That conflict between the strict rules and the questioning of them drives much of the novel’s early chapters.
Deuce herself is a very strong character. Although her world holds much to fear, she often faces her fears and conquers them. However, that’s mostly in regards to threats in the physical realm. As a counterbalance, the author paints her as rather timid when it comes to threats to her mindset or her emotions. She recognizes that the enclave’s rules aren’t working, and yet she’s hesitant to do anything about it. Then, at a crucial moment, she does find her strength, and it’s all the more powerful for her earlier reticence.
I think that Aguirre made a wise choice in not stretching out the novel. It clocks in at just 259 pages, and as such it’s a lean, taut thriller. In this respect, it reminds me more of Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth. There’s lots of action, the right balance of character growth and exposition, and a clear goal to aim for. This is a novel that readers will quickly devour, and they’ll come away from it satisfied. I don’t know if Aguirre is planning a sequel, but if she’s not, it’s okay. Enclave stands quite well on its own.
Ann Aguirre’s first teen novel has proven that she can write young adult fiction that is just as gripping as her adult novels. But don’t make the mistake of believing that only teens will enjoy this novel! Enclave is a novel that anybody can enjoy.
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Page Count: 259
Publication Date: April 12, 2011
Acquired: Borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis Branch
Read an excerpt