Allison's Book Bag

The Enemy by Charlie Higson

Posted on: November 2, 2013

The Enemy (Higson novel)

How do you get rid of the adults? Every writer of children’s fiction, from picture books to young adult novels, has had to answer this question. Adults aren’t fun. Adults get in the way. How can kids have adventures if they’re stuck doing homework and chores? Enter the old standbys of  divorce, death, abandonment, and prison.

Charlie Higson found a better solution: turn them all into zombies.

The Enemy is the first book in a planned young adult series of seven. A strange disease turns everyone over the age of sixteen (or is it fourteen?) into zombies. Of course these are not classic undead zombies, but living zombies — people who have become animalistic brain-craving monsters as a result of a mysterious illness. Not only does this get all those pesky adults out of the way — in the sense that they are no longer authority figures who do nothing by spoil kids’ fun — but it gives kids license to kill them on sight.

I wondered at first about the overly specific cutoff between zombie and non-zombies. How can it be so specific? (And what is the cutoff age anyway? I swear it was sixteen in the copy I read, and reviews on Amazon say it’s sixteen, but Wikipedia and Penguin Books’ trailer says it’s fourteen. Is it fourteen in Britain and sixteen in the U.S.? Anyway, for the purposes of this review and my sanity, let’s say it’s sixteen.) Where was I? Oh yeah. So there isn’t any physiological difference between a sixteen-year-old and a seventeen-year-old that would make one immune and one not. Ah, but Higson has a rational explanation. Seventeen years prior to the events of the book, there is a worldwide plague. Everyone alive at the time is infected. But the disease doesn’t manifest itself immediately. It remains dormant for sixteen years. Meanwhile, everyone born in the wake of the plague is disease-free. Kids born to infected parents do not have the disease. So when the disease finally kicks in, only those people who were alive at the time of the plague become zombies. Elegant.

The Enemy is set in London one year after the zombification of the majority of the population. The story focuses on a group of kids who have holed up in a Waitrose supermarket. Their lives are what you’d expect: sending out groups to forage and fighting off zombies. There’s also the occasional encounter with a rival gang holed up in the nearby Morrisons supermarket.

Naturally change is a-comin’, or there wouldn’t be much of a story. A stranger arrives and invites the Waitrose kids to return with him to his group’s stronghold. His group is well-organized, and their leader has big plans. And so they pack up and set out and have an incident-free journey through London. Well, no, not really. There are zombies everywhere.

English: Charlie Higson, comedian and Young Bo...

English: Charlie Higson, comedian and Young Bond author, taken at Los Angeles book signing in 2005 by John Cox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Higson adds variety to the story by providing a couple of subplots. Two of the Waitrose kids do not tag along with the main group. One stays behind at Waitrose because he’s a bit agoraphobic, and another is separated against his will and has adventures of his own. I like that one of these subplots is not wrapped up in a tidy package at the end of the book. In fact, the main plot isn’t wrapped up in a tidy package either, as naturally the promised land is not what the Waitrose kids were expecting.

If you aren’t in the mood for a nitpicky complaint, please skip to my concluding paragraph. Okay, here it is: I am not a big fan of the word “though”. It’s hard to explain, but I’m of the opinion that it’s a word for amateurs. Often it just isn’t necessary, and other times it’s just ungainly. And in The Enemy, it’s overused. (The Enemy contains 112 uses of the word; The Hunger Games, which is the same length as The Enemy, contains only 66.) Here’s an example from The Enemy in which I think it’s both ungainly and unnecessary: “He was happy. Almost happier than he had been before the disaster. The one thing he longed for, though, was peace of mind.” The phrase “The one thing he longed for” implies that what follows will be an exception to the character’s happiness. So why add “though”, which interrupts the flow of the sentence? Try re-reading those sentences without the “though”. You still understand what’s being said, and the passage reads better. The word “though”, used like this, is a jarring speed bump — one that can often be avoided. It tells the reader that the narration is contradicting itself. Here’s an example that is completely made-up by me but which is illustrative of the way the word is frequently employed in The Enemy: “It was quiet. Everyone was on high alert, though, sensing that something was wrong.” See the contradiction? It’s quiet, so you’d think everyone could relax. But no, they can’t. Now, consider instead: “The uncharacteristic silence was unnerving. Everyone was on high alert.” This rewrite tells you upfront that something is wrong with the silence, and so the second sentence does not need to be presented as a contradiction that requires explanation. Furthermore, the rewrite has better pacing — no speed bump! Have I made my case? I wish I could cite an “expert” who agrees with me, but I can’t find anyone who has an opinion on “though” one way or another. So maybe I’m the only person in the world who’s bothered by it. Could be. I won’t let it get to me, though. (Hee hee.)

Enough nitpicking. What matters is this: I’m hooked. Despite the abundance of “thoughs,” Higson writes well and has created an exciting adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip through zombie-infested London. As an adult, I appreciated that Higson did not write a watered-down gore-free child-friendly zombie tale. And as someone who is not a teenage girl, I also appreciated that Higson wrote a real zombie story and not a Twilightesque teen-zombie grope-fest. The next book in the series is The Dead, which is a prequel to The Enemy and is set about a year earlier, two weeks after people began turning into zombies. Unfortunately this means that I’ll have to wait until at least the third book to find out what happens to those Waitrose kids.

Charlie Higson on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson

Penguin Book’s trailer for The Enemy

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