Review: The Always War by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Genre: young-adult (juvenile), dystopia
Series: N/A
Pages: 304 (Simon and Schuster eGalley ARC)
Published: expected November 2011
Source: publishers via S&S Galley Grab
Rating: 3/5

For as long as Tessa can remember, her country has been at war. When local golden boy Gideon Thrall is awarded a medal for courage, it’s a rare bright spot for everyone in Tessa’s town—until Gideon refuses the award, claims he was a coward, and runs away. Tessa is bewildered, and can’t help but follow Gideon to find out the truth. But Tessa is in for more than she bargained for. Before she knows it, she has stowed away on a rogue airplane and is headed for enemy territory. But all that pales when she discovers a shocking truth that rocks the foundation of everything she’s ever believed—a truth that will change the world. But is Tessa strong enough to bring it into the light?

This was actually a mistake of mine: I downloaded Ms. Haddix's young-adult/middle-grade novel while attempting to receive another galley. Once it was downloaded and I read the short blurb about a never-ending war with no known cause, I was interested enough to give it a try and it made for two hours of enjoyable reading. Though by no great shakes a complicated or dense novel, The Always War is action-packed, fast-paced adventure that (much) younger readers will have a great time reading. It is quite simple and thus incredibly easy to read but no less adventuresome or intriguing for its youth and simplicity. Accordingly, some of the solutions/twists Haddix offers up for her novel can be predictable and almost deux-ex-machinas, but it's easily glossed over in favor of the age group this particular novel is geared towards.

Tessa is not the most developed of characters, but since this a novel aimed at kids half my age at the most, it's easy to forgive. She's a kind, selfless girl; the kind who sees hope in a down-beaten, war-weary and repressed Eastam. This is a girl that finds beauty in a n ethereal spiderweb; a girl who won't give up. In a country that has been at war with the enemy nation of Westam for over seventy-five years, Tessa aspires to more: to be more, to do more. In a world where entering the military makes your family elite, Tessa has to struggle with the knowledge that her life will never, ever improve. Stuck in an endless cycle of school and then work, Tessa and her eagerness are easy to understand. Even her adoration of her former neighbor Gideon is understandable: in a world where war is the answer, those who kill the most are the "heroes."

Gideon, the aforementioned hero, provides a nice change from Tessa's wide-eyed dreams. While I did find the ages of all the characters to be unsettlingly and unbelievably young (Gideon is only a teenager), I doubt younger readers will have the same issues. Gideon himself is a self-tormented young man who cannot forgive himself for dropping a bomb on over 1,000 people. The only one in Eastam bothered by what he did, Gideon considers himself a murderer, a coward, a killer. While he seems to have just the right set of skills to do what he needs to, I liked Gideon's decisiveness. I didn't like his interactions with Tessa very much (I like harmonic characters rather than bickering ones) it was an accurate representation of what I think a young man would do in his situation(s). The other main character, that of Dekaterina Pratel aka "Dek", both worked for an undermined the story of The Always War. While I did find her alternatively amusing and annoying, it is completely unrealistic that this 8/9 year old would know how to disable and fly a plane ON HER OWN. It's just too much: I understand Haddix wanted this to be a novel of just youngins saving the world, but Dek is so far out there it throws off the novel. I appreciated that she grounded Tessa's optimism/dreaming with blunt honesty and that she was mature enough to not let Gideon wallow in self-pity: surely she could've been aged at 13-14 for a better representation of the character?

I did like what little the author did to establish the setting. I'm BIG on setting: place-as-character goes a long way for a novel when it's done well. Unfortunately, Haddix barely sketches out a locale for her players to operate within. Just the essential enemies "Eastam" (formerly Eastern America) and "Westam" (Western America) are supplied, along with random mentions of former landmarks. I certainly wished for much more atmosphere, but I will admit I got a chuckle of the "Santl Arch" the three adolescents use to acclimate themselves. Those less-than-subtle allusions to the modern-day United States make the war in novel even more personal and extremely relatable to a modern audience itself going through a seemingly endless War on Terrorism. I definitely recommend this to a younger audience than myself: I think ages 10-14 will love Tessa, and Dek's attitude and Gideon's plight will affect them much more than it did me. I did enjoy the final twist Ms. Haddix pulled for the war/countries: a satisfying conclusion to an enjoyable novel.


  1. Hm, sounds fun. The cover grabbed me -- and I always love a good dystopian.

  2. I like many of her books- she usually does a good job creating other worlds. I have not read this one- but I was drawn in by the cover. I liked your honest review- sounds like there are some good parts and some unrealistic parts.

    Thanks for sharing.


  3. The cover got me too, Audra. It's very eye-catching and sparkly. It was decent, though clearly pared down for kids.

    Fairday: I loved her books when I was younger so I enjoyed a chance to look at her later novels. It's a better-than-average offering, but not up there with her classics. :(


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