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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Review: "Enclave" by Ann Aguirre


"Enclave"

Author: Ann Aguirre

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends

Pages: 259

Summary (taken 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.

Cover impressions: After receiving a copy of this book from GoodReads friend Lucy, I was immediately drawn to the Publisher’s Weekly quote declaring the book to be “for fans of The Hunger Games”. Such comparison quotes, while attention grabbing and common practice amongst publishers, immediately set up a certain level of expectations, even in the most cynical of readers. While I haven’t actually finished reading The Hunger Games yet (I’ll get round to it eventually, I swear!), I began this book with the same expectations I have for every dystopian novel – strong world-building and a real threat & sense of danger.

There are books that make me consider discarding use of the flawed star rating system for reviews. Sometimes it’s close to impossible to summarise the qualities of a book into a simple rating out of 5, 10 or however one chooses to do so. A book can be a relatively enjoyable and competently written piece of work that would otherwise deserve a solid rating, but a certain element, event, etc, can bring its rating tumbling down. This happened to me with Sarah Beth Durst’s “Ice” and it happened with “Enclave”. But before I get to why I cannot give this book anything higher than one star, I shall discuss other elements of the book that succeed and fail.

I’m sure you’re all sick of me going on and on about this but the foundations of a strong dystopian novel lie in its world-building. Unusual or disturbing events can’t just happen for shock value. They need to be rooted in the origins of the society, grounded in reason, meaning the reason of this world. This fundamental lack of reason within the world-building in “Enclave” left more than a few questions unanswered. The underground society Deuce lives in does not name its young, known as brats, until a specific age, which is never mentioned. Why? There doesn’t seem to be any specific reasoning behind this rule and seems too impractical to fit in with a world that works to prove itself as fundamentally practical. There are hints of a cult-like mentality to the ruling class of the world but it’s barely touched upon and leaves us with half-built reasoning. Children are sanctioned into one of three groups – warriors, builders or breeders – yet the reasons for specific grouping once again seem at odds with the necessary practicality & needs of this society. One breeder, Deuce’s friend, is seen as ideal for his calling because he is handsome, but I failed to see why this would be a relevant quality in a world where death & disease are rampant. Other extremely questions go unanswered – how does this enclave have clean water after generations underground? How does Deuce go from a lifetime underground to full on exposure to sunlight and only get slightly burned with no damage to her eyesight?

The writing itself is adequate, if simple, and has well-paced action scenes, although the overall pacing is erratic. Certain scenes are evident padding and clumsy plotting, which coupled with several under-developed plot points proves to be somewhat frustrating. No character other than the heroine is given adequate time to develop beyond basic tropes, although I did warm to Deuce somewhat throughout the first half of the novel. However, it is one particular character and how others react to him that soured things for me.

A little more than midway through the novel, Deuce is kidnapped by a gang who make their intentions towards her clear – they intend to use her for breeding purposes, forcefully if need be. Later we are introduced to Tegan, a fellow kidnapped woman who has been raped repeatedly and given birth to stillborn children. After altercations with the story’s main monsters, the Freaks, the head of the gang, Stalker (yes, really), decides he will go along with Deuce, Tegan and main love interest Fade in order to have a better chance of surviving. Fade and Deuce agree to this, despite Tegan’s protests that she does not feel safe around the leader of the gang of rapists who repeatedly violated her for years. Later on, Stalker pushes Deuce against a tree and kisses her.

Deuce reciprocates.

I’ve made my thoughts clear on the ‘bad boy’ trope in YA; I don’t like it. I understand the fantasy behind being the one girl who changes the rebel but ultimately I think it’s a problematic trope that is all too often used as an excuse to have the love interest treat the heroine like dirt, often being rough with her and belittling her.

Patch from “Hush Hush” held his love interest against a bed and talked about how much he wanted to kill her after stalking her, harassing her and generally making her feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

Stalker is the leader of a gang of rapists. It is hinted at in the book that he has raped women before. It is also implied that he may have raped Deuce during her kidnapped period.

He is presented as a potential love interest to Deuce.

The aim of a good dystopian novel is to create a sense of dread. I have seen rape mentioned in other dystopian novels and within the constraints of this world where humans die young and need to reproduce quickly, it makes sense that a patriarchy dominated society would view women in such a manner. However, I have never seen rape used so casually and tossed aside so simply by a character and an author in a YA novel. There is a cruel lack of empathy for Tegan in “Enclave”. Even within the constraints of the novel’s world, one ruled by social Darwinism, to force Tegan to interact daily with the man who stood by & let her be raped repeatedly, possibly ordering the rapes himself or even engaging in the horrific act himself, is baffling at best and disgusting at worst. As the novel progresses, Tegan grows (lazily from a characterisation point-of-view) from a victim into a ‘strong’ young woman who can fight back, but all I could think about was how her rape was used in such a cavalier fashion. Deuce, who started off with such potential (even if she did fall into the typical romantic plot tropes with mysterious bad boy Fade), does not question Stalker or his past actions. Instead, she lays some of the blame on Tegan. The dismissive attitude she has towards a victim of multiple rapes is abhorrent. At one point she asks herself how Tegan could have been so weak as to allow the events to happen. Deuce’s general attitude is that life is tough, and if she can suck it up and get on with her life, so can Tegan. Even within the context of the novel, this felt wrong on every level. Deuce, who had previously shown moments of true empathy, becomes someone who sympathises more with a rapist than the victim of rape. I shouldn’t even have to explain why this made me sick. And that’s why I can’t give this book anything more than one star.

I don’t expect every book in the world to be a beacon of social justice and feminism; that would be stupid. What I do expect is for a book to follow the rules it sets for itself. “Enclave” fails on this thanks to its inconsistent and confusing choices in its world-building, which seem to exist more for shock value than any real sense of reason. It’s a mediocre novel that becomes disgusting when something as serious, life changing and horrific as rape is used so clumsily. Rape is NEVER the woman’s fault. She’s never ‘asking for it’ and she’s certainly never deserving of pity or scorn because she was unable to fight back. Bad boys are problematic enough, but making a rapist not only a sympathetic character, one who receives a degree of sympathy from the heroine not rewarded to the victim, but a potential love interest is flat-out inexcusable.

1/5.

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10 comments:

KB/KT Grant said...

Maybe Ann is tricking the reader into thinking Stalker is an apparent love interest for Deuce. I'm hoping it's a twist to freak out the reader because I can't see how Stalker can be a love interested for Deuce because he's a psycho, murdering rapist.

I bet you Stalker remains the bad guy. I have hopes Ann will keep him this way, but then again in the WTFckery that is YA, you never know.

Did you also notice that when Tegan is introduced, she says Stalker has raped her but then she changes her story later one and says he never did and was only a bystander (even that is disturbing). I think there was some goof or error on Ann's part or maybe she didn't think the reader would catch on?

Anonymous said...

Ewww. I feel like I need some brain bleach after reading that. I was a little interested in reading this book, but I'm not now. I really hope Stalker is the villain and not a potential love interest, because that would be really sick. But I guess if Edward and Patch can be considered ideal men, then there aren't many things that are too fucked-up and sick for YA.

I've seen other YA books that have touched on the issue of rape in war or in post-apocalyptic worlds, but they handled it with much more sensitivity, and they never set up a potential gang rapist as a potential love interest. Even if Stalker never laid a hand on Deuce or Tegan, he still allowed women to be raped and abused under his watch.

Sara said...

The author tried explaining herself on her blog, but it still doesn't sit right: http://www.annaguirre.com/archives/2011/08/16/enclave/ She pretty much ensured that I will never read another book written by her.

I'm really glad to find someone else who spotted the same things I did - Most people seem to just post super-glowing reviews of this without mentioning the skewed views of rape. (And the idea that Tegan wasn't "useful" in society so being rapeable was her only asset. Ugh.)

Elisabeth said...

Anonymous 2 here again. I just read her blog entry, and I absolutely hate arguments like this: "Stalker cannot be judged by our yardstick of what’s acceptable; he is a product of the society in which he was raised."

I guess adults who commit murder, rape, torture, terrorism, child abuse, etc. should never be prosecuted, because it's society's fault that they committed evil acts. Can you hear me rolling my eyes? Unless someone held a gun to Stalker's head, no one MADE him kidnap and abuse innocent women. I wouldn't have such a problem with this issue if Deuce was shown to be wrong or Stalker was shown as a predator, not a potential love interest.

I know it's only a novel, but it leaves a sour taste in my mouth because I hear enough bullshit excuses like that in the real world.

Deirdre said...

I really liked Enclave when I first read it, but the more I thought about the second half of it and the whole Stalker/Deuce/Teegan dynamic, the more disquieting I found the situation. I was looking forward to the second book, but I finally decided to take Enclave off of my Keeper shelf and to give it away. Now, after reading Ms. Aguirre's blog entry where she tries to explain away Stalker's appalling behavior (thanks for the link, Sara!) I am glad I did. Yes, I can and will judge Stalker for his odious behavior. That he grew up in a dysfunctional environment may explain his actions, but it in no way mitigates them. I also recently read an excerpt of the sequel and it looks like Stalker's still playing a prominent role, with nary a mention of poor Teegan (though I may have missed it mentioning her, since I mostly skimmed the passage). It's a shame, since I loved the first half of Enclave, but there's more than enough dystopias out there for me to read that won't make me want to throw up.

Thanks for the review, Ceilidh.

Deirdre said...

Okay, went back and looked at the excerpt in more depth and Teagan was mentioned, briefly, but the passage seemed to focus more on the tension between Stalker/Fade/Deuce. *mild spoilers* Looks like Teagan recovered from her wounds (the physical ones, anyway), but it still makes me angry no one's fed Stalker to the Freaks yet.

Andra said...

I had a lot of the same problems with this book that you did. I wasn't QUITE as appalled when I initially read about Tegan and Stalker...but I was really frustrated with the fact that they needed to empliment a freaking love quadrangle...and the fact that Deuce was so callous of Tegan and the fact that she was a victim of continuous rape...not the best book to give to young readers in my opinion

Anonymous said...

I agree with your sentiment. I also was horrified that Deuce became quite involved with Stalker. Also, she forgets that he kidnaps Pearl, Fade's friend, which results in her death. Can she really forget he was going to kill Fade and rape her. Doesn't she hear Tegan's anguish regarding her years of sexual enslavement. Then as she and Stalker are in the forest, he forcefully kisses her, and this doesn't ring bells that he views women merely as sexual partners? This type of romantic interest is sick.

jennygadget said...

"There is a cruel lack of empathy for Tegan in “Enclave”. Even within the constraints of the novel’s world, one ruled by social Darwinism, to force Tegan to interact daily with the man who stood by & let her be raped repeatedly, possibly ordering the rapes himself or even engaging in the horrific act himself, is baffling at best and disgusting at worst."

This. A thousand times this.

You know, I don't mind Deuce and Stalker being flawed. I rather expect them to be actually. What I mind is that the narrative supports this lack of empathy for Tegan.

And that the narrative (and apparently the author herself) are confused about the difference between judging someone vs. deciding that it's not possible for you, personally to save them and change them. And that they are, therefore, not safe for you - or other people - to be around.

An interesting and mature scenario would be for Deuce to admit (even if only to herself, even if only later) that she is essentially choosing her own safety over Tegan's. This is not exactly an evil choice, given the circumstances. But it's not a noble one either.

It's Aguirre's reluctance to be complicated and mature, her insistence on her protagonist being chidishly right even when she isn't, that makes the entire book (or the last half of it anyway) so incredibly icky.

LA Knight said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I had other problems with the believability of this novel before I got to the part with Stalker (like how none of the enclave members have scurvy, rickets, or any other disease from malnutrition) but THIS PART is just disgusting. And that Ann Aguire would say that about Stalker being not responsible...ew. So thank you for posting this. I talk about it in my review as well.

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