REVIEW: Gamer Girl by Mari Mancusi
Dear Ms. Mancusi,
While I’ve read a few of your adult books, I’ve never tried your YA works. I’m not sure why that is because I’ve always gotten the impression your voice would do well with a younger audience. In my opinion, Gamer Girl proved my hypothesis correct. Maybe a little too well, in fact.
After her parents’ divorce, Maddy Starr leaves Boston to live with her grandmother in the suburbs. Starting over at a new school is always tough when you’re fifteen. It’s harder when your new school is full of poster children for Abercrombie and Fitch and your outfit of choice comes from Hot Topic. To make matters worse, Maddy’s first day at her new school is marred by having to wear a unicorn sweatshirt, her grandmother escorting her to the front office, and that same grandmother embarrassing the school’s quarterback by recounting an embarrassing childhood incident. Branded “Freak Girl” by the in-crowd, resulting in becoming a social pariah, Maddy loses herself in the online gaming world, Fields of Fantasy. Too bad her real life can’t be as perfect.
The best comparison for this book is that it’s like cotton candy. It’s pleasant and sweet while you’re consuming it, but the next day it’s a vague memory. This book is a very quick read and not once was it ever slow. I also think it deals with many topics today’s teens can sympathize with — divorce and wanting your parents to get back together, starting new schools and trying to make new friends, relocating and experiencing culture shock when your new town is nothing like your old one, and balancing real life with a virtual one. It’s a pleasant, comforting read.
But because of that, I also think it suffers. Not once does it ever push any boundaries or explore those issues with any real depth. I’m not saying all books, YA or not, need to be deep or edgy to be good. I am saying, however, that this book’s execution was a bit superficial and shallow for my tastes. There was nothing awful about it. But there wasn’t anything particularly good either.
Perhaps I wouldn’t feel this way if the plot were a little more original. As it is, however, we have the very familiar “Girl goes to new school, is bullied by in-crowd, and falls for cute boy belonging to in-crowd” story and we all know how that one ends. I did like the ultra-modern trappings of including MMORPGs and manga, but their inclusion here almost felt like a neon sign proclaiming “Look how cool and trendy I am!” I could be wrong. I’d appreciate hearing thoughts from any young adult readers (those readers within the actual target audience, that is.)
Which brings us back to where we started. While I love young adult fiction, I think I also have limits as to how young I can read. Gamer Girl may be a YA novel but I fear it falls on the younger end of the YA spectrum. It reads very young and is relatively simple in story and plot. I checked the inside of this book and it’s recommended for ages 12 and up, which falls in line with my impressions. This is more of a tween book than an older YA book. So if something like The Hunger Games is too heavy and readers are looking for more lighter, comforting fare, this might be the ticket. But if readers want their books more meaty, this is one to avoid. C