Thursday, February 22, 2024

Leon Levels Up

Coccia, Paul. Leon Levels Up
February 13, 2024 by Orca Book Publishers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Leon loves to play video games, especially since they take his mind off a lot of other things. He's a stocky kid who wears oversized hand-me-downs and generally has a poor self image, which further isolates him from his peers. When Nico Saito approaches him one day to complement him on his gaming acchievements in Slumber Party Fortress, Leon is thrilled. Nico's dad Ren owns PixGrid, a prominent game company, and Nico is everything that Leon is not; cool, fashionable, and popular. When Nico invites him to his house to play a new game his father is developing, Leon panics and even gets his mother to buy him some new clothes. The game is to be played at the PixGrid facility, although Nico hasn't exactly cleared it with his father. Gabs, one of the game developers, shows the boys the new, completely immersive Virtual Reality set up. They gear up, and prepare to jump into pools of nanobots, but Nico rushes and damages his helmet. This causes massive glitches in the game, and Gabs can't even communicate with him. If the game continues too long, the nanobots will try to infiltrate Nico's helmet, eventually suffocating him. The only way out is for Leon to win the game so that it ends. Will his gaming skills be enough to save his new friend?
Strengths: Today's children certainly spend a lot of time playing video games, and judging by the wild popularity of the Minecraft books in my library, reading about playing video games is the next best thing. Orca Currents books are a nice, small size (112 pages, but 5 x 0.25 x 7.5 inches compared to the 5.75 x 1 x 8.5 inches that a regular hardcover measures), move along quickly, and yet have all of the necessary components that make them suitable for language arts projects in a way that Wimpy Kid books are not (e.g. they actually have a plot and some character development). Leon is a very typical middle school student who wants to impress the cool Nico, there's good video game action, and Leon does save the day. I would categorize this as fantasy due to the nanobots.
Weaknesses: I don't play any kinds of video games, so I was a little unsure why Gabs couldn't just pull Nico out of the pool of nanobots and stop the game. There have been similar books where there were neural melds that precluded this sort of action, and maybe the short length just didn't lend itself to more convoluted explanations. The target demographic is not going to care; they are just going to imagine themselves in the story, saving the cool kid from certain death with their fantastic gaming skills. The way Leon's weight was treated didn't seem on trend with the current push for body positivity.
What I really think: I'll probably buy a copy of this, because some of my reluctant readers who will admire the fact that Leon plays games on his computer at lunch because he thinks teachers assume he's doing homework rather than gaming will find this less painful than other books. The reading level on this is listed as 2.3, whereas most books for middle school come in between 4 and 5.5. While I have no patience for people who demand that students read "on grade level" (very few adult books have a listed reading level of 6-8), it is very helpful to have books at a lower level for students who are struggling. I will purchase a copy, but I didn't find it as personally amusing as Schrieber's Game Over, Pete Watson (2014). Wow. Almost ten years old. Sigh. 
 Ms. Yingling

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