[Book Review] The Compound by S.A. Bodeen
I picked up this book completely by chance at a bookstore about a year or two ago—I actually cannot remember if it was last year or the year before. Never before had I heard of S.A. Bodeen, and I hadn’t heard any buzz at all about this book. What I am guilty of, however, is that I was attracted to the book’s cover. Not to mention I had been in a bit of a dry spell and was itching to really get around to some reading. Of course, the cover isn’t the only thing going for this book. I’m the type of consumer that will only buy a book if it passes at least three out of my four “tests.” Here’s how I remember The Compound fared at the time.
1. Especially when I’m crunched for time, as I often am, the cover needs to look intriguing. This, for me, is oftentimes the initial draw. (Check.)
2. The summary needs to get me curious enough to hold on to the book while I roam the library/bookstore at the very least. (Check.)
3. The first chapter of the book needs to reel me in—bonus points if I’m already invested by the opening sentence. (Check, double-check.)
Now for the last “test,” this determines whether or not I end up buying the book as opposed to just leaving it at the bookstore or jotting down the information I need in order to find it at my local library.
4. If I managed to get through at least half if not the entirety of the book, did I really enjoy it, and do I see any re-read value there? (In this case, I took a gamble. I had only read about 20% of the book when I realized I had to leave the bookstore. It seemed interesting enough to invest in, so I did. This is not at all the norm, as in most other cases I probably would have just left the book there, made note of it, and picked it up later. Do I regret my decision? Not a bit.)
I actually haven’t heard too much buzz about this particular book since I’ve read it, so I’m not sure if it’s gained any popularity, but on the whole I did enjoy this one. In fact, my first thought after finishing it was “gosh I wish there were a sequel.” Long story short, this book was originally published in 2008, and the author intended it to be a standalone work. Even so, I remember doing a Google search to see if the author might have changed their mind and decided to do one anyway. Funny enough, it turns out she did end up changing her mind. Even better news, the sequel—The Fallout—is releasing this year. And depending on whether or not she completely ties up all of what I felt were loose ends in The Compound, I could easily see this turning into a decent trilogy as well.
So what is this book about? Well, quite honestly, I think the summary on the back of my copy of this book is pretty sufficient in explaining it. Here’s what it says:
Eli and his family have lived in the underground Compound for six years. The world they knew is gone, and they’ve become accustomed to their new life. Accustomed, but not happy. For Eli, no amount of luxury can stifle the dull routine of living in the same place, with only his two sisters, only his father and mother, doing the same thing day after day after day. As problems with their carefully planned existence threaten to destroy their sanctuary—and their sanity—Eli can’t help but wonder if he’d rather take his chances outside. Eli’s father built the Compound to keep them safe. But are they safe—or sorry?
As you can see, there’s a bit of the whole “thriller/suspense” thing going on here, but also, what I really ended up enjoying about the story is that everything is a puzzle. I love books that make you want to guess the answers to certain questions and keep you on the edge of your seat to find out whether or not you are right, and I think this is definitely one of them.
Of course, no book is really without its flaws, and this has a few worth noting. Sometimes it seems believable that a family could survive underground without ever leaving their sanctuary for a long time, but then you remind yourself that this family has been underground for six years. Maybe it’s because I cannot wrap my head around such a thing, but there were times where I thought things were getting a little too unrealistic.
There’s also a matter of the characters. I was pretty split down the middle. Half I felt invested in, the other half I could really care less about, especially Eli’s mother and one of his sisters. I can’t remember the specifics as to why though since it’s been about a year or two since I’ve read this, but I remember they just rubbed me the wrong way.
One strength I remember this book had was the decent balance between dialogue and description, as well as a fair amount of action—which is especially important because I think even too much action can cause a story to drag.
Perhaps some people agree with the author’s original thoughts and think that this should have been a standalone story. However, I felt that while this was a strong book, it also left behind a lot of open-ended plot holes that could easily be remedied in a sequel. That in itself, I think, is quite rare. This is one of the few times where I think the addition of a sequel is rather natural and not something that forces a follow-up release just to piggyback off of a previous work to gain more profits.
FINAL VERDICT: B+
If you haven’t tried this book yet and are open to the idea, I say check it out, I really think it’s worth the read. I don’t think a release date has been revealed for the sequel, but I am happy that there will be one this year, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.