Monday, January 09, 2023

MMGM: Roll for Initiative

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

I REALLY thought that I had posted this when it came out, but when I was adding my records back to Goodreads, I couldn't find this anywhere. It was a great book, and I have students who are going to be so excited for it. Sorry it took so long to post the review!

Formato, Jaime. Roll for Initiative
September 27, 2022 by Running Press Kids
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Middle school is hard enough, but when her older brother Devin goes off to college in California to learn to design video games, Riley is left in Florida with her mother to navigate things without his support. Her mother works long hours, since her father is not always reliable with his child support, and Devin has always driven her to school and helped her with homework. After a disastrous first day riding the school bus, Riley does manage to meet another girl who lives in the same apartment building she does, and despite her mortification, starts up a friendship with Lucy. Devin and Riley often played Dungeons and Dragons, and Riley and Lucy are soon developing a game. They also include Hannah, who also lives in the building and finds them playing in the creepy basement laundry room, and Jen, who is devoted to her schoolwork and thoroughly researches the game and her character. The campaigns are fun, but when Riley tells Devin about them, he scoffs at their relaxed attitude towards the rules and canon of D&D. Riley, who has learned to do laundry, make snacks, and help out her mother with the assistance of her friends, doesn't appreciate his comments, and also worries about his progress in college. The other girls have problems of their own; Lucy lives with her father and uncle, and her mother is too busy with her new boyfriend to make much time for her; Hannah struggles academically, and her parents feel she is taking too much time playing D&D; Jen's parents are also worried she's spending too much time away from her school work, but their concern is that she isn't spending her time working on activities that will look good on college applications. When Devin comes home at Thanksgiving and surprises Riley and her mother with the fact that he is staying home and applying to community college, Riley begins to realize that she has flourished without her brother and that they both need to be more independent. She secretly releases a video game Devin is working on so that he can see how good it is and have the confidence to return to college, but will he be able to get over the anger at her betrayal to move on?
Strengths: Even though students will be drawn to this because of the D&D details (and there are many), I loved the depiction of family life. Riley has to come home by herself once Devin goes to college, get her own snacks, and even do laundry. There's not enough of this kind of activity in middle grade books, and it's a time in real students' lives when they have more and more responsibilities. The fact that Riley's father isn't in the picture is also reflective of what life if like for many students. I appreciated that she was understanding of her mother's struggles and tried to help out. Devin's reaction is a bit more extreme, but also understable considering his struggles in college, which is also not often something that is depicted. Her new friendships are supportive but not without a touch of drama, and Riley navigates them well. D&D players will love the creation of characters (including Lucy's father's cupcakes for their "birthdays"), the designing of campaigns, and the details about following the rules or deciding to break them in order for the game to be more fun. I probably should buy two copies, because I forsee high demand for this new title.
Weaknesses: The last third of the book was a little slower; it concentrated more on Devin and his return home because of his own issues and his worries for Riley and his mother when what I really wanted to read was more about Riley and her group of friends.
What I really think: As someone who is D&D adjacent (I've had friends who play, as does my daughter), I can appreciate all of the creative work that goes into a D&D campaign, as well as the friendship that it engenders. There has been quite an uptick in the number of students who voice an interest in the game, and they will adore this book. This is a geat addition to D&D related books like Mancusi's 2008 Gamer Girl, Anderson's The Dungeoneers, O'Donnell's Homerooms and Hallpasses, and Markell's The Gamemasters of Garden Place.


  1. I have a middle-school neighbor who would love this, too. Amazing that D & D continues on midst all the others available. Thanks for the review, Karen!

  2. I no nothing about D&D, but I know the teens who are really into the game. I love what you share about each character because it just shows how believable they are for readers. So much drama in middle school. I think you're right, your students will be reading this novel! There is so much to like about this story! Enjoyed your thorough review.

  3. My sons are D&D aficionados. They started playing in their teens, and now in their 30's and 40's still have a group they play with once a week. My son has introduced his 5 year old daughter and nephew to the game. I will be looking forward to reading this.

  4. There seems to be an increase in kidlit incorporating D&D into the story. May be the Strangers Things effect.

  5. I remember seeing this one on a coming soon list last Summer then totally forgot about it. Yes, students will love this story, and I'm adding it to my future read list. Thanks for sharing your review on MMGM this week!

  6. I've never play D&D but I have played similar type games and they are great fun, so yes, I can see the appeal of this book! Now I feel I must finally play D&D!

  7. I have never played any video games. I didn't know D&D was still a thing, but if it helps to get kids to read a book, I'm for it. Thanks for the review.