Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Minecraft: The Haven Trials

Davies, Suyi. Minecraft: The Haven Trials
December 7th 2021 by Del Rey Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cece lives in the Gemstone Estate in Lagos, Nigeria with her mother and father, and is just about to start secondary school when she gets a text from her best friend Reesa that her family is moving! Cece rushes down the block to her house only to find that she is already gone. Her father is able to contact the family and find that they are on their way to live in Scottsdale, Arizona. Cece and Reesa were big fans of the videogame Minecraft, and had a subscription to a separate realm/server where they created Silver Oaks Park. This wasn't filled with as much adventure as the rest of the Minecraft world, but the two friends spent a lot of time there building their own universe. Cece is angry that her friend has left and destroys the sign to Silver Oaks Park, and then is worried that her action has ruined the game. Instead, she finds that the subscription has run out. However, Reesa has made new friends in the US who have invited her into a new game which ends at the Haven. In order for Cece to be able to talk to her friend (since the family's Nigerian phone number no longer works), she must pass three trials in the game to get to the Haven. At first, it seems impossible, and it's even harder since she is also trying to fit in to her new school. It's hard without her best friend, and she notices that most of the new students sit alone. There are some girls who are mean, but mostly Cece is just ignored. She does finally make a friend in Joachim, who talks to her about Reesa and the Minecraft game. Joachim lives with his grandmother and isn't as well off as Cece, so she tries not to make him feel bad when he doesn't have a game console. He eventually joins the game from his phone. Cece has a lot to learn in this particular game, but does manage to make steady progress through the levels, befriending a character named the WereDragon. Will she be able to complete the Haven Trials in order to contact Reesa again, and will their friendship manage to survive their separation?
Strengths: The best part of this book was how Cece's experiences in school and  in the game were very parallel, and lessons she learned in one aspect of her life carried over into the other. It made for some interesting connections, and underscored the importance of friends for middle school aged readers. The information about Cece's school, neighborhood, and family were interesting to me, and the Minecraft adventures will be interesting to my readers. There was plenty of Minecraft detail; I know this because there were huge swaths of the book I didn't really understand. There was more world building and supply laying in than in other books I have read, and fewer villagers and mobs running about attacking people, which I enjoyed. Cece was a sympathetic character, and I think I will remember more of the plot of this book than of the others in the series. I'd love to see more books by this author. 
Weaknesses: I felt that the character of Joachim could have been fleshed out a bit more. He ends up being a good friend to Cece both in real life and in the game, but still remains a bit one dimensional. I feel there were hidden depths to him that would have been interesting to explore. 
What I really thinkThere are so many  Nigerian authors who write adult novels, but relatively few in the middle grade arena: Okorafor's Ikenga and Nwaubani's somewhat more Young Adult Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree being the only two I can think of, although there are a few other African writers whose work has made it to the US, like Baitie's Crossing the Stream (Ghana) and Ochieng's Playing a Dangerous Game (Kenya). There have been several studentsin my school from Nigeria, and many others who have family connections there, so I would love to see more realistic fiction books set in African countries.  I've read Baptiste's The Crash, Fry's The Voyage, Lee's The Shipwreck, Drayden's The Dragon, as well as Brook's The Island and Lafferty's The Lost Journals, and Valente's The End. I need to read Brooks' The Mountain when my Follett order arrives. None of these have written to my hard drive, so it's good that my students want to read these just because they are Minecraft related. I will remember a little more about this one thanks to the intriguing glimpse into school life in Lagos, but would have been happier if the whole book had been about Cece's experiences there rather than in the video game world. 
Ms. Yingling

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