A video game fanatic turns his world upside down.
Bryan Biggins is a gamer. The white middle schooler is obsessed with “Sovereign of Darkness,” a computer game with a secret level that constantly eludes him. But one night, Bryan finally gets all the elements lined up properly to enter it, and—poof!—he wakes up the next day living life as if it were a video game. His bike ride to school becomes a “Mario Kart”–esque race for survival. His gym class turns into a “Call of Duty”–like shoot’em-up. And his teachers become sages and dungeon masters. It’s an imaginative premise that undercuts itself. Bryan’s best friend, Latino Oz Guzman, seems mostly to be on hand for comic relief, but he fares better than the object of Bryan’s affection, gorgeous, brown-skinned Jessica Alcorn, who has all the character development of Zelda. The novel appropriately lifts many elements from video games, but a flat female character who’s just a prize for the male hero should have been left on the table. That’s what the book is ultimately about: Bryan has to level up and win Jess’ heart to complete the game, but Jess is barely in the book, which is instead dominated by video game allegories for middle school troubles.
The last thing video game nerds need is a reinforcement of a regressive view of women as objects instead of individuals. (Fantasy. 8-12)