Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Last Gamer Standing and other spec fic

Zhao, Katie. Last Gamer Standing
September 21st 2021 by Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's 2067, and Reyna Chang is definitely super excited to be at the summer Dayhold Academy and to be taking part in the junior championship tournament. She's had to keep her online identity separate from her in person one, since there is a heavy bias against both female and Asian gamers. Her online presence is The RuiNar, who presents as a teenage boy, a play on the Chinese version of her name, Rui Nar. Her parents are struggling, especially now that her mother is battling cancer, and are not thrilled to have their daughter be so interested in gaming. They think that she should spend her time studying useful things, like math and science, and don't fully support her dreams of being a professional gamer like LuckyJade847, her idol. The summer academy has many useful classes, but Reyna struggles with the social aspects of the camp, since she has to hide her identity. Her best friend from school, Henry, is at the camp, and she does connect with Nell Kwon (a boy), over their interest in The RuiNar. Reyna makes it through the first round by forging an alliance with Proslayer, a player whom she has admired, but he does not make it through. In the second round, she tries another alliance with RHCP, but that doesn't go as well. In the meantime, her mother's condition worsens, and her father wants her to come back home. Not only that, but she gets an anonymous e mail from another player who threatens to dox her. (From Dictionary.com: To publish the private personal information of (another person) or reveal the identity of (an online poster) without the consent of that individual.) This strengthens her resolve to do well at the tournament, especially since she wants to win the $10,000 prize in order to help her family. During the third round, she is made the captain of a team that includes F3lx, who is widely suspected of habitual cheating, but who is so clever he is never caught. Will Reyna be able to hold her own in the tournament, stay connected with her family, remain safe from those who wish her ill, and pursue a career in E Sports?
Strengths: While the descriptions of in-game play (and the fantastic cover!) are what will sell this to most readers, there is plenty of relevant social content for gatekeepers. This is set just far enough in the future that readers in 2067 might still have access to this book! Not a lot has changed, especially in the treatment of women and people of color in the gamer world. I loved that Reyna addresses this topic, and while it informs many of her choices, it never stops her from working towards her dream. It is also helpful that she does have a few role models (whom she eventually gets to meet), and has friends who are supportive of her once they find out her true identity. Also important is that when she has an opportunity to report mistreatment, it is taken very seriously. She is even given a response when she asks specifically what the consequences will be. When there are problems in middle grade novels, I think it is helpful to young readers to see good practices modeled in books, since they may not see them in real life. Since this is a Scholastic title, make sure you order an extra box if you are having a book fair! 
Weaknesses: I could have used more information about Reyna's life and how she worked her gaming into her ordinary activities before she came to the summer camp. Also, my daughter's name is Nell and I've never heard the name used for a boy before, so I kept expecting another subplot to develop from this.
What I really think: If this were available in hard cover, I would probably buy five copies. In prebind, I will probably get two or three. Video gaming is a HUGE interest among middle school readers, and until a few years ago, it was difficult to find books that involve them. Now, there's Anderson's fantastic Insert Coin to Continue, Mbalia's Last Gate of the Emperor, Mancusi's Dragon Ops, and many more titles. 

Video game books are always hard for me personally; I don't understand gaming (since the only game available during my formative years was Pong), and I don't think it is a good thing for children to do. If they are reading a book about video games, at least they aren't playing them! My own offspring were limited to a half hour of screen time each day, so when Reyna talks about playing for FIVE hours each day, that just seemed excessive. Many of my students think they can become YouTube stars, professional video game players, or professional ball players, but their chances of actually succeeding are so low. I wanted to be a Latin teacher, and my life would have been SO much better if someone had firmly squashed that impossible dream when I was young, so I really struggle with books like this, even though I buy them and recommend them to students.  

Got to the point this summer where fantasy novels got a bit samey. Now, my students won't necessarily have this reaction, since they haven't read as many as I have, but I can't buy all the books. Even if there were enough money, there's not enough SPACE, and I already have a ton of books about tweens finding out the have magical powers and using them to Save the World. Here are a couple of fantasy books I will be buying, but didn't have the mental energy to review properly.

Tsang, Katie and Tsang, Kevin. Dragon Legend (Dragon Realm #2)
September 21st 2021 by Sterling Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This had a couple good twists-- it is set at a summer camp, dragons are involved (they are HUGELY popular in my library right now), and there is also some time travel. I enjoyed the first one, Dragon Mountain

From the Publisher: 
"Billy Chan and his friends are not having a very relaxing summer. Their friend, Dylan, has been kidnapped by the evil Dragon of Death and it's up to them to travel through time, back to the dangerous Dragon Realm, in order to save him. Luckily they have their own dragons on side, but they'll need to collect eight magical pearls if they're to amass enough power to destroy the Dragon of Death and her followers for good. So begins an epic quest that will take them to the depths of the Frozen Wasteland and the imperial palaces of Ancient China. But can good triumph evil...?"

Barron, Rena. Maya and the Return of the Godlings
September 21st 2021 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Really enjoyed the first book in this series, Maya and the Rising Dark. Glad to see Maya's father is back and involved in teaching her about her powers, and will definitely buy this book. 

From the Publisher:
"In this highly anticipated sequel, Maya and the godlings must return to the sinister world of The Dark to retrieve the one thing keeping the veil between the worlds from crumbling: her father's soul. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky and Willa of the Wood."

Smith, Ronald. The Young Prince: Spellbound
September 28th 2021 by Marvel Press 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

While I was able to hang on through the first book in this series (https://msyinglingreads.blogspot.com/2018/01/wndb-black-panther-young-prince.html), the story does require a little more Black Panther knowledge than I have in my brain. There is even a graphic novel about this character, but that made me even more confused. I love Smith's writing, and the first book has been wildly popular with my students. I'll buy this one, and feel like I need to go read a whole lot of Black Panther comics. Or maybe see the movie. 

Somehow, I did much better with Stone's Shuri series:

From the publisher:
"In the sequel to the hit middle grade novel, The Young Prince, T'Challa is heading back to America to visit his friends Sheila and Zeke, who are staying with Sheila's grandma in Alabama over their summer break. T'Challa is excited to see his friends, but his fun summer vacation quickly turns into a nightmare. The small town has fallen under the sway of a charismatic politician named Achebe who is there to retrieve a spell book full of dark magic. When strange events start to take place, T'Challa begins to think that it's no coincidence that Achebe arrived in Beaumont at the same time he did."

1 comment:

  1. An interesting assortment! When I am on duty at my new part-time children's room library gig, I struggle with the graphic novels. Luckily, the avid readers of that section know exactly what they want (and can usually find it faster than I can) but I think Last Gamer Standing would appeal to the same kids. The negative attitudes toward female gamers is a real problem and has got a lot of attention locally.