Friday, October 22, 2010
Book Review: Gamer Girl
Gamer Girl (2008) by Mari Mancusi
Inside Jacket: Maddy's life: not so rockin'. Her parents split, she's stuck in a new, small town at a school full of Aberzombies and Haters, she has a crush on someone she really shouldn't like, and she's stuck with the nickname Freak Girl. Sometimes it's enough to retreat into her drawing--her manga is totally important to her--but when she gets Fields of Fantasy for her birthday, she knows she's found the one place she can be herself. In the game world, Maddy can transform from regular outcast high school student to Allora, a beautiful Elfin princess with magical powers to take down enemies with a snap of her fingers and a wave of her wand. As Allora, Maddy's virtual life is perfect, and she even finds a little romance. But a real gamer girl understands that real life comes first--Maddy can't escape from her IRL problems. She has to find ways to kick back at the Haters, rock her manga, and find the new, real-life friends she knows she deserves.
Review: This book brought me a lot of joy. I found Maddy to be fairly real and likable, and I felt for her in a lot of ways. (Although I'm not so sure about the way she equates Hot Topic with individuality and originality. But girlfriend gets a break). Maddy finds a lot of freedom and relief in Fields of Fantasy, and even meets a smokin' Elf warrior named Sir Leo when no one IRL* is paying positive attention to her. Anyway, Mancusi does a good job of projecting Maddy's delight with the game--not to mention her excitement at having met someone nice to play with--so that readers share her anticipation to log on and quest. I don't exactly consider myself a gamer girl, though I have certainly spent my fair share of eight-hour stints (and, um, four years) on World of Warcraft (which, let's be honest, is what Mancusi means when she says Fields of Fantasy). Even for people who don't game, I imagine they'd still get a lot of enjoyment out of Maddy's experiences. (And honestly, the gaming isn't that large a part of the story). Mancusi also responsibly makes sure to include conversations between Maddy and her parents wherein they remind her not to give out any personal information and talk about the dangers of the internet. (And Maddy listens to them, even when she desperately wants to tell Sir Leo more about herself). Also, it's adorable the way she is concerned about coming off as a n00b in-game but happily brags about her gamer status (after like an hour of playing) to people offline.
Gamer Girl has a good balance of life lessons, romance, and humor. Maddy has to struggle with a group of popular bullies at her new school, and one of the ways she copes after being humiliated is to go home and illustrate the scene with a new ending: one where she stands up for herself (and others) and is basically the best, most powerful version of herself. This is a really empowering move on her part, because later in the story--as you can guess--she is able to do it IRL.** Mancusi weaves the plot together seamlessly, spending just enough time on Maddy's struggle with her parents' split, the jerks at school, as well as her online crush on Sir Leo and her offline crush on a boy in the bully group.
Conclusion: 4/5. This book is probably meant for a slightly younger audience (12-15) but it's very readable. Ultimately it is a story about a girl who comes into her own, learns to be herself even when she stands alone, and makes a place for herself in her environment. Maddy is a delightful character who struggles with the complexities and contradictions in her life but comes out victorious.
*What? You thought I wouldn't freely use chatspeak given the chance?