Ender's Game

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Ender's Game Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Boy genius trains to crush alien invasion in sci-fi classic.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 35 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 132 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Perfect discussion book, even for reluctant readers. Families can talk about if the end always justifies the means, if games desensitize kids to violence, and much more.

Positive Messages

The story introduces the concept of the end justifying the means, themes of loyalty and friendship, ideas about what bravery means, and complex thoughts on politics. The sheer emotional impact of this gripping read means these concepts will stick with kids long after, though there are no simple answers.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ender has a gift for combat -- he fights and kills -- even though he doesn't understand the stakes. He's incredibly intuitive, bright, curious, but also troubled by his conscience and tries desperately to make sense of his role as a soldier. Petra is a strong female character who is not sexualized or dumbed down in any way. Ender's brother, Peter, engages in cruel bullying and has dangerous ideas. Other characters are a mix of "good" and "bad," and several central characters are ambiguous.


Violence is frequent and, in some cases, quite vicious, especially as some of it's between kids, some result in unintentional deaths. An older brother is particularly cruel to others, including the main character, and threatens to kill or injure the young brother. A few fights between kid soldiers results in serious injuries with blood. Many of the scenes during Battle School entail detailed descriptions of virtual battles. A twisted boy tortures squirrels to death by skinning them alive. Kids are led to commit genocide, albeit unknowingly.


Boys and girls are naked in dorms, though there's no sexual activity. There are two computer screen pranks briefly described: In one, an off-color message ("I love your butt. Let me kiss it.") is sent and attributed to someone who didn't send it. In another,  a screen displays a large, animated image of male genitals, which is not described in any detail.


Language includes lots of "hell," plus the occasional "ass," and the word "s--t" is used in one scene three times. Other teasing language and some occasional potty talk is sprinkled throughout.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game is a gripping and emotional sci-fi novel, originally published in 1985, that will appeal to older tweens and teens. It's a dystopian novel about kids trained from age 6, mostly by playing computer games, to find a way to wipe out an entire species of alien invaders. The violence is at times quite brutal, as kids kill other kids. And main character Ender is admired for his ruthlessly efficient violence, though he himself is disturbed by it. Some bullying by an older brother is intense and disturbing, and the conclusion to the story is shocking. Author Card is an outspoken proponent of racist and homophobic views. They don't appear in this novel, but they have gotten wide exposure in articles, essays, and social media in recent years. The release of the 2013 film adaptation of the novel was accompanied by controversy due to Card's expressed views and political writings.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byseifert_jamie April 9, 2008

Best Sci-Fi book ive read

My name is Jamie, I am seventeen years old and a junior in High School. I was motivated by my English teacher to start reading this book and throughout the book... Continue reading
Parent of a 2 and 11-year-old Written byZephyrzInferno March 19, 2011

A great book for mature kids.

I love this book. Because of the dramatic ending, I had my son read it too. We were able to talk about things not always being as they seem and some issues abou... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old August 13, 2010

What's the fuss about again?

Okay, I've seen kids at my school reading this book, but never talking about it. So when it was on my summer reading list, I said why not and read it. Now,... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byMissBookaHolic February 21, 2018

A thrilling and chilling sci-fi that is absolutely one of my favorite books of all time

Ender's Game (by the way this is a book, not a game) is set in a gripping futuristic backdrop of a post-war world. The earth is threatened by creatures (al... Continue reading

What's the story?

In ENDER’S GAME, the Earth has been attacked twice by aliens called Formics, or more popularly, Buggers, and everyone is sure a third invasion is coming. So the military embarks on a crash program to breed the ultimate military genius to lead the fleet in a pre-emptive attack against the Formic home world. These kids are trained from age 6 in an off-world facility called Battle School, and their training consists mostly of games. Ender Wiggins may be the child they are looking for. Brilliant, compassionate, and tormented, he's better at the games than anyone has ever been. But how can they manipulate a compassionate child into wiping out an entire species, and at the same time give him the skills to do it effectively? The adults who run the school are literally out to save the world: They will stop at nothing to achieve their ends, and one small boy, or even a school full of kids, is nothing but a means to that end.

Is it any good?

Considered by some to be the best sci-fi novel ever written, Enders Game hits the trifecta: deeply emotional and character-driven, brilliantly intellectual, and exciting as all get out. This is the kind of book the phrase "page-turner" was invented to describe: Most people finish it in one sitting, unable to put it down.

But the images and ideas linger long after the last thrilling page is turned, making it a perfect discussion book, even for reluctant readers. Its view of politics in the internet age is prescient, especially considering it was published in 1985, and as a treatise on ruthless education it's without peer. Though it wasn't written for children, it has been embraced by middle- and high-schoolers. The violence can be quite disturbing to parents, who might want to preview it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Battle School in Ender's Game, where kids are trained from age 6 in an off-world facility in which their training consists mostly of games. How do these games train them? Do you see any implications here for our current world?

  • Ender's Game was originally published in 1985 and won the Nebula Award for best novel that year. Why is it so well regarded? Why does it appeal to readers today?

  • Do you see a connection between Ender's Game and the Hunger Games trilogy? How are they similar? How are they different?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love science fiction and dystopian novels

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