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Book Review: Save the Enemy

By (November 7, 2013) No Comment

Save the Enemysave the enemy cover

by Arin Greenwood

Soho Press, 2013


We’ve all done things we’re not too proud of. Maybe you’ve stolen money from your mother’s wallet. Perhaps you’re ashamed of what you’ve done for a Klondike bar. Take Zoey, the quirky, upper-middle class, politically savvy protagonist in Arin Greenwood’s teen debut Save the Enemy. She slept with her (former) best friend’s ex-boyfriend. Mistakes happen–but some are larger than others.

Zoey comes home from school one day only to realize her die-hard libertarian father is nowhere to be found. After receiving threatening text messages for a gizmo known as the “J-File,” Zoey learns that Dad isn’t just missing—he’s being held hostage. In Save the Enemy, Zoey’s unconventional mission is exactly that.

Despite a suspiciously helpful, conveniently wealthy love interest named Pete, Zoey has trouble kick-starting the manhunt. Thank goodness for her brother Ben, who has autism and happens to be visited in his sleep by their deceased mother, Julia.

Political consultant and supposed victim of random violence, Julia led a vague professional life that, until now, never impinged on Ben and Zoey’s thoughts. In Ben’s dreams, Julia drops hints about the mysterious J-File—what Zoey will need to save Dad. Ben’s condition impedes his ability to lie, as well as perceive the feelings of others. This dynamic is one of the tastier parts of Save the Enemy; but others aren’t so easy to digest:

He twists his wrists out of my hands, using a deft move that Dad didn’t know or neglected to teach me. My nail catches on his skin, and rips, which hurts. Now I have a hang nail. I try to bite it off. It starts to bleed. I watch the blood bubble on my cuticle. The pain of it is odd because I don’t feel it in my finger. I feel it in my stomach. I feel nauseated. (Not nauseous. Nauseated. Mom was a stickler for correct usage.)

Greenwood often expounds on Zoey’s quirkiness with unnecessary and distractingly tedious passages. She latches onto concepts and runs with them. If you’re Ayn Rand, she’s latched onto you (just shy of 20 times) and dragged you cross-country.

One of Save the Enemy’s greatest triumphs is in achieving moments of mammoth discomfort. When Zoey rehashes the aforementioned regret of sleeping with her best friend’s ex-boyfriend, the reader feels nauseated (not nauseous):

My father found us in the morning. He shrieked. Donald jumped up. The condom now stuck to a part of him that my parents—and, arguably, me—should never have seen. I covered myself tightly with the blanket… As with all the things I tried to control mentally, this trick did not work. It was happening.

Oh. Em. Gee. But the bump and grind doesn’t stop there–it goes on for another two pages. The reader sits by helplessly as Zoey qualifies that if she had become pregnant, Mom would have loved the baby regardless, despite suggesting a visit to Planned Parenthood, and questioning whether or not Donald has AIDS.

Donald doesn’t have AIDS…or anything to do with finding the J-File. He’s just one of several ridiculously wacky misadventures gumming up the pages of Save the Enemy. Nevertheless, teens will enjoy the awkward Semitic appeal of Zoey, who at first (and probably second) glance has no business toting a gun or drop-kicking assassins. As an awkward Jewish girl myself, I can’t help root for her.

Even though the title nearly spoils the set-up, Greenwood’s debut propels readers to discover just why the enemy needs saving. But beware: the mystery itself is more satisfying.