Writer's View: Enclave by Ann Aguirre

From Goodreads: In Deuce’s world, people earn the right to a name only if they survive their first fifteen years. By that point, each unnamed ‘brat’ has trained into one of three groups–Breeders, Builders, or Hunters, identifiable by the number of scars they bear on their arms. Deuce has wanted to be a Huntress for as long as she can remember.

As a Huntress, her purpose is clear—to brave the dangerous tunnels outside the enclave and bring back meat to feed the group while evading ferocious monsters known as Freaks. She’s worked toward this goal her whole life, and nothing’s going to stop her, not even a beautiful, brooding Hunter named Fade. When the mysterious boy becomes her partner, Deuce’s troubles are just beginning.

Down below, deviation from the rules is punished swiftly and harshly, and Fade doesn’t like following orders. At first Deuce thinks he’s crazy, but as death stalks their sanctuary, and it becomes clear the elders don’t always know best, Deuce wonders if Fade might be telling the truth. Her partner confuses her; she’s never known a boy like him before, as prone to touching her gently as using his knives with feral grace.

As Deuce’s perception shifts, so does the balance in the constant battle for survival. The mindless Freaks, once considered a threat only due to their sheer numbers, show signs of cunning and strategy… but the elders refuse to heed any warnings. Despite imminent disaster, the enclave puts their faith in strictures and sacrifice instead. No matter how she tries, Deuce cannot stem the dark tide that carries her far from the only world she’s ever known.

The Writer's View

First, I have to confess: I bought this book simply because I loved the cover. The cover doesn't really reflect the book, but it's still awesome.

Have any of you ever seen what you consider a good B movie? You know, the sort of movie that's a fun ride if you ignore the plot holes, odd character arcs, etc.? That's what Enclave was for me. Basically, it's a good ride. It's fast paced with lots of adventure and action. If you're looking for a fun book, this is it.

Trying to see through a foggy window

One of the things really lacking for me in this book was a sense of place. A large portion of the book takes place in a society that lives underground in abandoned subway tunnels, yet I could never clearly "see" this place. There are rooms where things happen, but there are no concrete details of them. I can't picture the common room, the kitchen, the workshops for the Builders, or the ceremony room, all important locations. I found myself wanting clear images of those places, but the descriptions are so sparse, I never got the mental picture that I wanted. I literally felt like I was trying to see through a foggy windshield. The world Aguirre creates is pretty cool, but I think more time needed to be spent flushing out the details.

Hijacking the reader's authentic experience with language

Deuce, the main character, is born in an underground society known as the Enclave. From ages 0 - 7, children of the Enclave (called brats) get basic care and rudimentary education. From age 8 - 14, they enter into training for the profession of their choice. There are 3 professions for Enclave members: Builders, Breeders, and Hunters. Deuce choses to become a Huntress, a protector of the Enclave. At age 15, after 7 years of training, she enters her chosen profession.

Deuce is seriously bad-ass. I liked her character. Her schooling has all been focused on fighting, and she is a well-trained killer. She knows her letters, but has minimal reading skills; basically, she reads well enough to be able to understand the various warning signs posted in parts of the underground tunnels.

Deuce does not know what subway trains are; she calls them metal boxes. She does not know what subway tracks are; she calls them lines. There are a lot of things she doesn't know. She hunts and eats rats, but doesn't know what those are called, either. When she eventually ventures "topside" (out of the tunnels), she learns what chairs, tables, sofas, and stars are. Essentially, Deuce is not what I would consider overly-literate. That doesn't bother me--it makes sense, considering her upbring.

Yet thoughout the text, Deuce consistently narrates with a very generous vocabulary. She uses words like personified, conciliatory, agenda, teeming, and kinetic. I could not reconcile this non-literary warrior teen using words like this; it kept jerking me out of the story, making it difficult for me to lose myself in the character and her world. The elevated language was consistent throughout the book.

As writers, I know we like our words. I was pondering what Aguirre could have done differently to give readers a more authentic experience. She could have written the story with an omniscent narrator; that way, it would have been the story-teller using the big words, not Deuce. Or she could have gone through the text and just slashed every word over a 4th grade reading level.

Once I ignored some of the more technical things that distanced me from the story, I enjoyed the ride. All in all, this was a fun read.