Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (Ender's Saga, #1)
Ender's Game is more homophobic than I remembered, with antisemitism I'd never noticed, and a weird insistence on stating how clothed the child soldiers are at any time. The battles remain exhilarating and children are taken seriously, but the bigotry isn't worth it.
I’m not here to tell you that you can’t like this book. I used to, I loved this series, read it over and over (I’ve finished Children of the Mind at least thrice), but you need to know that it’s blisteringly homophobic and consistently has the message that no one in power will help a kid being bullied. It starts off pretty blatantly homophobic by calling the alien enemy “Buggers” and then keeps going from there. The way the kids bully each other reeks of homophobia and toxic masculinity. The adults are either useless or actively encouraging the kids to humiliate each other. Ender’s parents are portrayed as completely oblivious to how his older brother tortured him, and the adults when he’s in training are specifically described as being the real enemy.
There's a lot of bigotry and racism wrapped up in names and nicknames. We get Han Tzu's real name once before being told that he just goes by "Hot Soup". There's a very antisemitic digression surrounding the introduction of "Rose the Nose" which contains a slur I will not repeat here. A very antisemitic conspiracy theory in the real world is made canon in the world of the book (e.g. Jews simultaneously being in most positions of power but also able to be outsmarted by one clever non-Jew). I'm sure there was more stuff that I'm just missing the cultural context to pick up, but what I did notice this time around ranged from slightly cringy and insensitive to straight-up slurs. I understand that the protagonists are kids and that kids mimic what's around them, and I'm not shocked that a military environment bent on training and indoctrinating kids so they can save the planet from aliens maybe isn't super concerned about them calling each other names and using slurs as jokes. But the author made a choice to not call any of that out in the same chapters which otherwise contain something approaching an anti-bullying message.
It has the message that kids are smart and brilliant and can handle the weight of the world if they have to, but it'll break them. When I was a kid I loved how it didn't talk down to me, how it got that I felt too old for my skin, like I knew too much for how adults saw me. It made me feel like a person while I was still a child. If you're in that space, I get it. I understand feeling seen and taken seriously by a book that doesn't talk down to you. But I don't recommend this one, the toxic messages aren't worth it. There's much better books that don't make homophobia casual, that don't treat antisemitism as logical and cool.
CW for murder, assault, homophobia, bullying, children in dangerous situations, body horror, religious suppression, torture, animal cruelty.