Review: The Always War (Margaret Peterson Haddix)

AUTHOR: Margaret Peterson Haddix
SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: Simon and Schuster
PUBLICATION DATE: November 15, 2011
ISBN: 9780689873805
PAGES: 208
SOURCE: Galley Grab
GENRE: Science Fiction
OVERALL RATING: Neutral opinion, 2 of 5 stars

SUMMARY: Three young people from the future accidentally enter enemy territory and discover the truth about a war that has shaped their lives and has continued for more than 75 years.

POP CULTURE COMPARISON: Isn’t there a Star Trek episode where two planets are at war and people go to die by a lottery system? There is no actual war, just people selected to die to simulate the war on both sides. It’s been going on forever. It seems like I remember my dad watching something like that when I was a little kid, but I can’t locate the episode anywhere in my internet searches. Anyway, this book reminds me of that episode.

WHAT I LIKED: Whew, so creative! I love the place names that have changed over the years (Shargo for Chicago, Lake Mish for Lake Michigan, Santl for St. Louis)–very cool. I enjoyed trying to figure out where they were by the weird place names.

The Always War packs plenty of social commentary into its sparse 208 pages. Even though the bulk of the story takes place in less than a day, Haddix describes this strange future clearly enough for readers to draw clear parallels to our own fear-controlled world.

Though there are only three characters that matter, I really liked all three of them. Ten-year old Dek is street-smart and knows her technology; although she is bossy and thinks she’s all grown up, she still acts like a little kid at times. Fifteen-year old Tessa is a dreamer who believes things to be a certain way but adapts well when she discovers things are not what they seem. She’s an observant thinker who is courageous and real. Gideon, at only about 17, seems weary and tired for someone so young. Even the name Gideon reminds me of a wrinkly, old man. He’s tired of war and death, and when he discovers his entire existence has been a lie, it nearly destroys him.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: I’ve reviewed several mediocre books in a row and am just really ready for something I can read obsessively. I thought I’d be safe with a good Margaret Peterson Haddix book, but sadly, I struggled just to finish The Always War. The pacing is slow, and there were a couple of times I thought about abandoning it altogether. Honestly, only the short length kept me going. Not much really happens beyond the characters’ fear that something is going to happen. The ending felt unnatural, reminding me at times of Superman III and The Truman Show. It was just plain weird. While the character-development and world-building are superb, The Always War is not among Haddix’s best.


  • Language: none
  • Sexuality: none
  • Violence: none
  • Drugs/Alcohol: none

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: It’s not out for a couple more weeks, but I’ve already ordered it for the library. While I didn’t really like it, I know I can generate excitement about this book. My students love Haddix, and the concept of an endless future war is going to make it popular with my students, particularly boys.

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