Anda is still getting used to being in a new town, and a slightly (just slightly) colder climate than she’s used to. And she’s still looking for something that she can own, that she can be…well herself in. Then she gets introduced to Caorsegold Online, a massively-multiplayer role-playing game where she is a fighter, a leader…a hero. She’s part of an all girl gaming group and although she’s a probie, she’s begun to prove how valuable she is. Everything is going so well…and then…she befriends a gold farmer, a poor Chinese kid whose only goal is to illegally collect and sell valuable objects. And while this is against the rules of Coarsegold and what she has been fighting against, Anda soon realizes that the lines between right and wrong are blurred when real life shows up to play.
Lately the book world has been clamoring, begging, for more diversity in characters and more of a look at, well real world topics. And here “In Real Life” delivers both in spades. Not only do we have strong female characters in this book that are smart, intelligent, kickass gamers, they don’t leave who they are in the digital world. They take it into the real world with them, to stand up for what they believe in. In this book Anda comes to that point in life where she starts to question and realize that just because there is a difference between right and wrong, that they are not always black and white. That there are shades of a spectrum and there are reasons for everything, even if we don’t always like them. So then the question becomes…what do we do about it? And that’s the question that Cory and Anda answer, or attempt to answer. Even better though is that Anda doesn’t just make these changes in the gaming world…in the real world to she stands up for what she believes in and grows as a character as we read. Throughout the book, beginning, middle, end, Anda is a character to look up to and admire…and maybe even emulate.
I do think that it says something that Anda chooses an avatar that is almost opposite of her: white, red haired, and slimmed. What it says…well I’m not sure that I’m the best person to answer that question, but Jen Wang does not make such choices in character design lightly. Nor is she one to make such a choice to encourage this is what all gamers do. I think she’s making a subtle, but powerful statement of her own about what we do and how we live, both in the digital world and the real world. And when the traits of the two start to merge…maybe things are bound to change. Jen Wang’s artwork is beautiful, rich and textured. She creates two distinct palettes with one being reserved for “the real world” which is muted and somewhat somber and the gamer world which is bright and vivid. I’ve loved Jen’s work since “Koko Be Good” and she’s only gotten better since then and really shines here. But I love, love the character design and the way the character’s move on the page. They are vibrant and animated in battle, in dance, or in just standing up for themselves whether to other players, their parents, or themselves.
Given everything that has gone on in gamer world recently this is an important book and Anda is a great character to look up to. Cory and Jen have created a work that should be on every library’s shelf and be handed out for everyone to read, about gaming, about reality, about life whether young or old or somewhere in between. I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.
ARC provided by Gina at First Second