Anda’s family has just moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, not far from the Grand Canyon, and now she finds herself at a new school. She’s an ordinary teen, kind of on the chubby side, finding a place with the group of kids who play Dungeons and Dragons during their free period. Since computers are her thing, Anda is taking a programming course where Liza McCombs from Australia comes to speak with the females in the class. She’s in the process of organizing a guild, exclusively for girls, to play Coarsegold Online, a MMRPG (Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game). It seems that women players have a tendency to hide their gender behind male avatars, afraid to show their true selves for fear of discrimination. This guild is looking to induct women into its fold if they pass the three month initiation. Anda is all in, as long as her mom lets her use her credit card to pay the twelve dollar a month fee.
Anda’s avatar, Kali Destroyer, represents her inner voice – bold, beautiful, with bright red hair and skills galore. She soon levels up as she masters the game play. Inside the MMRPG, Kali teams up with Sarge (Lisa) and they begin to destroy the Gold Farmers who are illegally mining for valuable objects which are then sold to other players for profit. Unfortunately, the profit is a big business, and the Gold Farmers are actually abused Chinese workers who are forced to work long hours for little pay. Anda befriends Raymond who wants to learn to speak better English. He’s about her age and works the overnight shift, but his previously injured back is causing problems. Thinking she can help she advises he go on strike to get some health care (just what her own dad’s union is doing with his company). Unfortunately, this advice only gets Raymond fired. To top it off, Kali Destroyer has been earning money by her antics and her mother cuts her off from the Internet, afraid that she’s in danger. Liza also suspends her (and Lisa) for not following the gaming rules. Anda feels responsible for Raymond’s troubles and looks for ways she can contact him and help him out of his difficulties.
Disclosure: I’m not a gamer, although my son has enjoyed the gaming experience participating in various leagues although not an MMRPG.
There are a lot of positives in the graphic novel, In Real Life by Cory Doctorow. Number one is the colorful illustrations by Jen Wang and the fact that the characters are portrayed as real people, not ones with Barbie Doll looks. Anda has insecurities, but grows stronger as Kali Destroyer, building confidence to the point where she proudly dies her hair red. The girl power is a plus. There is also a bit of a lesson, details given by Cory Doctorow in a forward, letting the uninitiated know about Gold Farmers, a real phenomena. Anda’s attempts to assist her friend are noble, even when they backfire. After all, this is a book for teens who need to know that they have a voice in this world. However, the resolution to the storyline, although rectifying the situation, is unrealistic at best. I also question the entire premise that a school would allow someone like Liza to solicit gamers to her league.
Given all that, I feel that the intended YA audience will enjoy this book, especially the fact that an average high school student becomes the hero, no matter how impracticable the ending. Gamers need to have their existence avowed.
Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.