Gamer Girl

Mari Mancusi
November 2008, Young Adult
Dutton, $16.99, 244 pages, Amazon ASIN 0525479953

Grade: C
Sensuality: Kisses

Gamer Girl is sort of your typical not-too-messed-up teenage girl from a newly broken family story with a hook this girl goes online to get away from her life instead of doing drugs, drinking, cutting, or having sex.

Maddy's mom and dad have recently and rather abruptly split in the middle of the school year and the resulting financial chaos finds Maddy, her mom, and her sister living with her grandmother in a small New Hampshire town. In the city Maddy had a tight and diverse set of friends and a strong sense of how she fit in with them. In her new school she not only has no one, but, after an unfortunate incident on the first day of school, actually finds herself targeted by the angry but extremely popular Billy who calls Maddy "Freak Girl," and makes her life as the new kid five kinds of hell.

The only bright spots in Maddy's life are an inexplicable crush on Billy's friend Chad who is gorgeous and sometimes kind, her manga art, and her ever expanding persona as Allora in an online game called Fields of Fantasy. In this game she can be beautiful and can become more powerful by overcoming programmed challenges. She even meets a champion and protector, Sir Leo, with whom she can fall virtually and safely in love. But Maddy's real life problems multiply and escalate in the course of the school year. Will she be able to find the strength and courage she has gained virtually to help her overcome the school bullies and achieve her manga dreams?

There is nothing really wrong with Gamer Girl. All the basic YA elements loneliness, alienation, parental estrangement are there in spades. But somehow Maddy's emotional reactions never seem intense enough. The divorce is awful and new, but other than how it affects her in the short term her new uncool address and school Maddy is already over it emotionally. She is angry at her mother for the situation, but her behavior, while immature, is hardly out of the norm for teenage girls who can flare up explosively over much less important stuff. The hazing she experiences at school is painful, but never makes her question her own worth. In a way, it's good to read a book with such a secure heroine, but emotionally the book doesn't resonate.

There is a romantic sub-plot here, and it's pretty predictable the way it plays out. Most of the book is that way, in fact. If I had been forced to write out a synopsis of what would happen after having read only the first two chapters, I could have predicted all the major plot points. Not the minor details, but everything I would have expected to happen did and in about the way I'd expected it to.

The hook here is Maddy's online involvement, and she does have a few cute moments with Sir Leo, but her experiences there are never adventurous in the way fantasy novels are. Almost all of her quests and missions are relayed after the fact with little description. Her online time is supposed to give the reader clues to what is happening in her actual life, and in this it succeeds. Otherwise...well, reading about a character playing a computer game is about as exciting as it sounds.

Gamer Girl may satisfy fans of manga and online gaming more than it satisfied me, but those readers will still have to shell out hardcover prices for a predictable plot and an unmemorable heroine.

-- Rachel Potter

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