A grim and psychologically complex story of war in space with child soldiers.
Ender Wiggan is a Third - a third child, looked upon with suspicion in a society where reproduction is tightly regulated in an overcrowded world. He is also mentally gifted, bred in hopes of being worthy to train for war against insectoid aliens, and sibling to an equally brilliant, tenderhearted sister and sadistic brother. This is the story of the child Ender's rigorous training in Battle School, the war against the "Buggers," and the machinations of his brother and sister back home.
Most characters present who are not hardened bullies can be said to be working for the greater good. In this case, the greater good is defined as the survival or thriving of humanity as a species, and in Ender's case, the survival of his sister and people like her. However, their means of achieving this end can be highly suspect.
Ender's teachers and trainers put him and his companions, the oldest of whom are in their preteens, through a brutally difficult training regimen, and also allow Ender to risk his own and others' lives in an effort to make him think on his feet without leaning on them for help. The trainers lie to and deceive their students, sometimes about quite significant facts. Ender's siblings both engage in a rather elaborate deception, partly for good-seeming purposes, partly for fun and partly as a power play. Adults are either stupid and condescending, or are out to get or manipulate the children in some way.
Some characters have done wrongs and been wronged in major ways because of a misunderstanding, and a character involved in this exchange of wrongs seeks a way to make amends.
Religion is not something which comes up very much in this story. For those characters who are religious, it seems to be an intensely intimate and private matter, and in the cases of characters whose religions have historically encouraged having large families, something which they fear sharing.
A child remembers his mother having prayed over him when she thought he was asleep, and another tells a dear friend "Salaam" when he is being transferred to a more difficult level of training, and again when they meet to work together after a long separation.
After the war's end, a new religion is established in human colony world.
First off, this is a war story. The body-count is high on both sides, and some of this is viewed by characters on film or through live transmissions.
Human characters who physically bully are given as good as they gave, and considerably worse, when it comes down to a fight. Ender has a policy of trying to hurt his tormentors badly enough to scare them away from trying again, but he does not know his own strength and often does more than he intends. A man jokingly threatens to break the face of anyone who talks back to him.
In Battle School, characters use a training weapon which does no permanent physical harm, but which disables their bodies for the duration of the training game.
A computer game intended as a kind of personal psych evaluation is often quite violent, with possible outcomes at various stages including a number of kill or be killed scenarios, with the manner of killing sometimes vividly described.
A cruel and possibly mentally unstable boy dissects live animals.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A game scenario intended as a kind of psychological evaluation contains a scene where one of two drinks must be selected, and the answer will always kill you in some way, as an indicator (by how often the players repeat it) of students' likelihood of being suicidal.
Battle School contains students of both genders, and most of them are grouped into common dormitory rooms by team or "army." This means everybody sees everybody else undressed on a regular basis. One "army" commander makes a point of telling the boys to not be nude around a girl (who goes about nude without reprimand because she does what she wants); one boy thinks this a stupid rule.
One boy teases another by talking about the movement of his rear, and another finds a way to flip his words back on him. An "army" commander uses animated private parts as a screen-saver for laughs.
Ender's affection and admiration for his sister is quite intense, and he also speaks of her as beautiful. It is not clear whether this is entirely phileo, especially in the light of a kiss in the psych game.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
Behavior: Boys tease one another about body parts. Another makes light of a medical exam and teases his sister about whether or not she's hit puberty. Someone mentions castration.
Language: The popular name for the insectoid aliens, "Bugger," is considered extremely crude in some nations and to some generations. This word, in reference to "you're as bad or contemptible as our enemy," is used as an insult, as are turd, b------, scrumbrain, pinbrain, moron, fart-eater, pig, p-ssant, a--hole, smarta--, b----
As a story with tense action and complex characters, which forces you to think and turns your expectations upside down, this book succeeds fairly well. As a clean read or as a read with clear-cut and preferably Biblical morality, it fails soundly.
While I do not believe that it is without any value, because of its convoluted end-justifies-the-means morality, some crudeness, and a large amount of sometimes disturbing violent content, I suspect many readers would wish to avoid it.