Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mancusi, Mari. Gamer Girl (2 stars out of 4)--
The best teachers I have had were seldom negative; they could find the good in everyone, they could say something positive about every one of their students, and they never raised up some by insulting or demeaning others. There are several examples of bashing in Gamer Girl by Mari Mancusi—nothing too vicious, but in my opinion, unnecessary. Great writers find a way to show embarrassment without saying, “They all probably thought I was special needs” (12), and potentially alienating one of her largest audiences. Great writers find a way to challenge and question authority without concluding, “She was really young for a teacher and I guessed still under the naïve impression that she could actually make a difference in her students’ lives” (36). Pardon me, but I’m not so young anymore, and I may be fooling myself, but I still believe that I can and do make a difference in my students’ lives, or else I would choose a different career. Smart kids see through that type of observation for the hollow cliché that it is, which is why I can still feel comfortable putting Gamer Girl on the shelf, even if I find parts of the narrative personally distasteful. Many students will be intrigued by the slang and gaming/fantasy references, and girls may get hooked by the love interest; like Bella’s Edward Cullen, Gamer Girl’s dream man is a mystery, just an avatar like her.
Maddy Starr is unhappy about her parents’ divorce, but she is infuriated by the effect it has had on her life: she has to live with her Grandma, Mom, and little sister in New Hampshire, away from her Boston prep school friends and lifestyle. Her first day at Hannah Dustin High School is pure culture shock for a goth-lite girl like Maddy: “It was as if I’d wandered into a living, breathing American Eagle commercial. Shudder. I looked around, desperately trying to pinpoint at least one person who would prefer Hot Topic to H&M, but came up empty” (12). When Maddy inadvertently angers the most popular and powerful boy at school, Billy Henderson, she is nastily introduced to the popular group who she nicknames the Haters; they are all jerks, except for Billy’s best friend Chad. He seems different to Maddy, and when Billy vows revenge on Maddy after her grandmother accidentally embarrasses him in front of his friends, Chad silently mouths a puzzling apology: “I stared after them, shocked by Chad’s apology. I had so not expected that. Maybe he was different from his friends. Not that it mattered . . . Still, he was so cute” (18). Maddy’s life takes a more pleasant turn when her father, named RockStarBob in the gaming world, buys her a hot new online game, Fields of Fantasy. With the help of Ms. Reilly, the only cool teacher around, she also starts a manga club at school to get more involved and deter the Haters from bullying her. While online, she meets SirLeo, a knight avatar who appears to be a boy her age; SirLeo saves Maddy’s avatar, the elf-goddess-mage Allora, from wolves so she can meet her dad at an online café. Allora instantly falls for SirLeo, and he seems to feel the same way. However, Maddy knows that both Allora and SirLeo are not real: “I wanted him to like me for the real me, not some fake-o virtual character. But that was stupid and unrealistic. I had to take this for what it was and not get too attached” (74). But Maddy does get attached, and she must decide whether or not to pursue her knight in real life, where he might be an ogre or worse. Then again, he could be Maddy’s dream boy, like Chad, except more accessible.
When I first saw Gamer Girl by Mari Mancusi on the bookstore shelf, I wanted to like it. It features an often-neglected audience, middler girls into gaming, role-playing, fantasy, and manga/anime/comics/graphic novels. It has a cool cover that shows the protagonist Maddy IRL (in the real world) and as her bolder, more playful, and more attractive alter ego, Allora. Each chapter begins with an adorable manga girl picture that describes Maddy’s moods, from happy to sad to lovestruck and back again. However, as I read, I realized that Gamer Girl is a good idea for a novel that is not fully realized by Ms. Mancusi. I was not surprised to read in the back flap bio that the author is a television writer; Gamer Girl’s plot feels a lot like a happy-ending TV movie, in which the kid wins the game, saves her dog from the pound, and becomes a woman, all in 90 minutes and with surprising grace and tenacity. The ending is ultimately unsatisfying due to the predictable plot, leaving the reader with a winner but no winning feeling to parallel the hero’s success. The best use of this book may be to appeal to gamers and manga fans who are not reading many chapter books, since the text-message language and slang used frequently by the characters will be fun for them. However, do not keep this book on the shelf too long, because using current language and pop culture is a two-edged sword; it may be cool now, but in a couple of years, it’s corny and instantly anathema. BTW, I like The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance, Maddy’s favorite album, so it must be out by now. Maybe Ms. Mancusi should have chosen Vampire Weekend’s debut instead. I do not like them nearly as much, so they must be cool :-)

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home