Goldstein, Neal WORLD SAVER
In this YA sci-fi debut, a teen visits his aunt's spiritual retreat to curb his video-gaming only to learn his favorite game is more real than he imagined.
Eight-grader Cypris Orbick Jr. lives in Dayton, Ohio, and spends most of his time logged into the gaming website World Saver. His mother, Dolores, loathes the game, which involves the behind-the-scenes saving of warring alien civilizations. She hopes her son will grow up to be a true man, like his test pilot father, Cy Senior. He died during a crash in New Mexico, and his friend Trent Cosgrove has become his son's stepfather. When summer begins, Dolores puts Cy on a bus to his Aunt Skyler's home in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, where she teaches yoga. There, with no computers or wi-fi available, Cy will hopefully dry out from his obsession (he is World Saver's top-ranked player, after all). Cy, however, smuggles in his laptop and plans to investigate the clues that he saw in a World Saver bonus video. The video, featuring a gray man in a car somewhere on Route 30, hints at the placement of an glass orb hidden in the real world. If Cy can find the orb, World Saver Studios will hire him as a game designer. For his debut, author Goldstein covers terrain that fans of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One will appreciate. Though instead of relying on pop culture references, Goldstein captures our attention with a genuine flair for the madcap. He concocts the Space Ranch, a theme park centered around the alien realms of World Saver, and even a reclusive park founder, Bud Brownheel. After clues lead Cy into the desert, a UFO encounter propels the narrative into stranger skies. In the second half, Goldstein sends Cy on a steep arc toward maturity, where he makes life and death decisions not for himself, but for others. He also learns that “Art, like love, is dedication,”  as he meets a poet, a painter, and a mechanic (among others) whose works imbed them in the wider human experience.
What begins as a YA adventure becomes a stellar rumination on the individual's place in the world.