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The Compound by S.A. Bodeen
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Sep 24, 2012

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Originally Reviewed on The Book Smugglers

It has been six years since Eli, his two sisters, and his parents have sealed themselves in the compound. Six years since Eli's twin brother, Eddy, and his grandmother have perished on the outside of the thick, concrete reinforced doors, victim to the nuclear war sweeping the world. Luckily for Eli, his father - a billionaire and brilliant technological innovator - has spent years preparing for the inevitable nuclear disaster, building an advanced and hidden underground compound stocked with ample food, water, medicines, and anything else imaginable to help his family survive for fifteen years underground - when it will be safe to emerge and begin rebuilding topside.

For six years, Eli has withdrawn deeper into himself, refusing to touch anyone else, pushing away his sisters and parents, resigning himself to his never-changing daily routine. But lately, ever since Eli turned fifteen, something has changed. Eli begins to question his father's unyielding, absolute control and decisions. And then he discovers a secret that will change everything - Eli knows that his father has been lying, and it is up to him to keep the rest of his family alive.

The Compound, S.A. Bodeen's first novel is another survival-oriented psychological thriller - this time with a more familiar apocalyptic bend. Chronicling a family's experience within a contained, increasingly tense environment, The Compound is a claustrophobic read complete with high stakes and dramatic twists (I'm talking really dramatic, even melodramatic twists). These are not quite unexpected - from the very beginning, you know that something is wrong with this family living beneath the ground, that there's something inherently untrustworthy about Eli's father and everything the family holds as true.

Unlike The Raft, The Compound relies on a much more overt, plot-heavy story - not to say that characterization suffers, but the focus here is on big twists and payoffs. The plotting is solid, if slightly predictable - the truth of the Supplements, and of the Compound itself are familiar tropes. Still, these elements are well executed and entertaining (in a twisted, frightening kind of way). On the character front, similar to The Raft, I really appreciate Bodeen's creation of conflicted, un-likable characters. Eli guards his own secrets and guilt, and his sisters Lexie and Terese are also intriguing, complex figures. None of the family particularly like each other, and it makes for a terse, intense environment and cast of characters with severe psychological games and drama. The youngest sister, Terese, for example adopts an affected British accent from her love of Mary Poppins. Lexie is jaded and hard, cruel to her brother Eli - just as cold and abrasive as Eli is to her.

My only complaints with The Compound lie with the caricaturish villany of the father character, and with the almost melodramatic reveals, especially in the novel's final scenes. These criticisms said, I enjoyed the book highly - but I think The Raft is the more memorable title of the two.
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