Thursday, July 28, 2022

Team Chu and the Battle of Blackwood Arena

Dao, Julie C. Team Chu and the Battle of Blackwood Arena
July 26th 2022 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux 
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus
Sadie and Clarence "Clip" Chu LOVE to play laser tag and get very competitive when they and their friends play games at the local Lase-Zone. Clip is a bit older and a little better at the game that Sadie is, and he loves to rub it in her face when she loses. Sadie excels at school and Clip doesn't, so he's jealous and a little miffed that she is trying to best him at the one area where he feels successful. Sadie often bristles at the way her Vietnamese grandparents fawn over Clip just because he's a boy, so there is a very realistic undercurrent of sibling rivalry that impacts their laser tag games. When a new gaming center is built in their town, the kids are very excited. The night before the opening, the go to the site to have a look and meet the owner, Mardella Blackwood. She is kind enough to show them around, and even gives them a few tickets. The most exciting thing about Blackwood Arena is the Virtual Reality aspect of the laser tag courts, and the fact that the winners on the leader boards for the complex will have the opportunity to participate in a reality survival type show run by Blackwood's parent company, JCD Universal, a multimedia conglomerate that produces many of the games Clip loves. This intensifies the rivalry, and as summer vacation begins, Clip decides to sneak off and play a few rounds to help rack up points. Unfortunately, he runs into Tom, a boy whom both he and Sadie have seen before in the game. Tom claims that he is stuck in the video game and needs help to get out. When Clip goes missing, Sadie is able to pinpoint the last place he was seen as Blackwood. Will she and her friends be able to rescue clip and manage to free Tom from his captivity as well? This is one of those books where I don't want to give too many details and spoil some of the plot twists!
Strengths: I guess that technically, laser tag is not a computer/video game, but this certainly going to have huge appeal for young readers who love technological games! There are plenty of details about what the children are doing, and, like with football books, I figure if I don't quite understand everything in the play-by-plays, it will go over well with the target demographic who WILL understand everything. My favorite part was the supportive but busy parents, and the grandparents who step in to take care of the children. The grandmother being called on the carpet by Sadie for how she treated Clip preferentially was fantastic, and I loved that the grandmother understood what she did and took steps to treat her grandchildren more equally. There is even some nasty anti-Asian bullying against Clip that Sadie stands up to, and it's good to see that other kids who are around stick up for the Chus as well. The Blackwood Arena setting is pure wish fulfillment, as is its ties with JCD Universal. Clip and Sadie could definitely have another book where they compete in the reality show.
Weaknesses: While the whole reason Tom is trapped in the game, and the sadness this causes, is well developed, Blackwood Arena was so cool that I didn't get as invested in that part of the story as I should have. I appreciated that the issue of how expensive it would be to play all the time is addressed briefly, but it would probably be more of a road block to actual tweens than it is in the book, but that's just a guess, since I haven't been to a similar venue in years. 
What I really think: This will be hugely popular with readers who like Anderson's Insert Coin to Continue, Zhao's Last Gamer Standing, Mancusi's Dragon Ops, and Hansen's My Video Game Ate My Homework. I'm going to buy two copies of this, since I think it will be every bit as popular as Game Over, Pete Watson, and I've never regretted buying two copies of that. I predict that this will be a number one choice for book projects!

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