The Compound by S. A. Bodeen is a fast-paced, compelling read with an exceptionally creepy premise. It grabs the reader from the very first page:
"T.S. Eliot was wrong. My world ended with a bang the minute we entered the Compound and that silver door closed behind us.
The sound was brutal.
An echoing, resounding boom that slashed my nine-year-old heart in two. My fists beat on the door. I bawled. The screaming left me hoarse and my feet hurt."
The book begins as nine-year-old Eli, his parents, and two sisters enter the family's secret, underground Compound, fleeing the start of a nuclear war. As though entering an underground lair, where you'll have to spend the next fifteen years, weren't drama enough - Eli is particularly traumatized because his beloved twin brother and grandmother didn't make it in time to join the rest of the family. They are left on the outside, presumed dead. And Eli is left drowning in guilt for the part that he played in their ending up on the wrong side of the door.
After a brief prologue describing the family's first day in the Compound, the book fast forwards six years. Fifteen-year-old Eli is damaged goods, refusing to let anyone touch him, and downright hostile to his two sisters. He still misses his twin brother, Eddy, every day. And he chafes against the control imposed by his father on absolutely everything. He also worries because the family is starting to run out of food, and blocks his mind from a truly terrible family secret, hidden behind an innocuous door. Then Eli starts to snoop around a bit, and learns that the situation is even more precarious than he had expected.
I read this book in one sitting - I simply couldn't put it down. The premise is fascinating, the setting is unique, and the action moves forward quickly, with layers of suspense that kept me turning the pages. Eli himself isn't the most likable character at the start of the book, but I found myself pulling for him anyway, because he was in such an impossible situation. And he does improve. Eli's younger sister, Terese, is also a strong character, functioning a bit as Eli's conscience. She watches a video of Mary Poppins at least once a day, and speaks with an affected English accent. Of course one would expect characters who have lived for six years underground, with no outside contact, to be a bit quirky.
I read this book so compulsively that I didn't even stop to flag any passages to share with you. But in truth, I don't want to give too much information away here, anyway, because I don't want to spoil the surprises of this book. I highly recommend this title for readers age 14 and up, especially for teen boys who crave suspense and like books with a dark atmosphere. I would hesitate to give this book to younger kids, however, although the writing style is quite accessible, because some of the concepts addressed are more than a bit disturbing. Overall, The Compound is an emotional roller-coaster of a book. It had me on the edge of my seat, made me contemplate certain philosophical questions, and also brought tears to my eyes. Don't miss it!
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: April 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the advance review copy, and may not reflect the final, printed edition of the book.
Other Blog Reviews: Worlds of Wonder, Charlotte's Library
Author Interviews: The Story Siren, Cynsations
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.