IN REAL LIFE

Thought-provoking, as always from Doctorow.

Online gaming and real life collide when a teen discovers the hidden economies and injustices that hide among seemingly innocent pixels.

Anda, a shy, overweight gamer and a recent transplant to Flagstaff, Arizona, is beyond excited when a guest speaker in one of her classes invites her to join in playing a massive multiplayer online role-playing game called “Coarsegold.” With her parents’ approval, Anda joins the presenters’ guild, a group of girls playing the game as girl avatars. Once in “Coarsegold,” Anda—known online as Kalidestroyer—is confronted by another guild member named Lucy, who asks her if she’d be interested in earning “real cash.” When she accepts, she’s pulled into a world of real-money economies where workers “play” the game, garnering items they can then sell for actual money to other players. Doctorow takes a subject that many people probably haven’t considered (unless they’ve already read his For the Win, 2010) and uses the fictional frame to drive home a hard truth: that many of the games we play or items we buy have unseen people tied to them, people who have their own struggles. Through Wong’s captivating illustrations and Doctorow’s heady prose, readers are left with a story that’s both wholly satisfying as a work of fiction and serious food for thought about the real-life ramifications of playing in an intangible world.

Thought-provoking, as always from Doctorow. (Graphic fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59643-658-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

NEVER FALL DOWN

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

Close Quickview