A 12-year-old video gaming prodigy comes to terms with sexism in the gamer world.
Jaden is thrilled when his sponsor, ArcadeStix, invites him to represent them at the next “Cross Ups” tournament in Montreal, where his friend Cali recently moved. But as Cali gets better and better at “Cross Ups,” and Jaden reads some of the creepy messages she’s gotten from other players, he starts to question his assumptions about gaming, girls, and guys. Chiang breaks ground in bringing this discussion to a young audience, and readers will appreciate an apparently diverse cast of characters, with Mandarin-fluent, biracial (Chinese/white) Jaden in the lead and secondary characters with names like Devesh and Tanaka. Disappointingly, though, these characters never really come to life, leaving readers with the feeling of an after-school special. Italicized use of Chinese words seems forced, and Jaden’s mother’s stilted English, in contrast with representations of her conversations in Mandarin, feels clichéd and confusing. Jaden, appropriately clueless from the start, is a tepid protagonist for this story (upon realizing that not all gamers are guys, he thinks of himself as “the new, improved me”) who nonetheless provides the drama’s glib resolution. Cali and Jaden’s sister, Melanie, a golfer, are perhaps the most intriguing characters—too bad they’re filtered through him.
An important, rarely addressed topic in juvenile literature imperfectly handled. (Fiction. 8-12)