June 20, 2005

Games People Play

I'm going to go out on a limb, here, and say that Athenum Books for Young Readers is pushing Mariah Fredericks' novels as nouvelle chick lit. I've just finished with Head Games. It's the only novel I've ever read on role play gaming (okay, okay, it's about more than that, I know) that has a face on the cover with moist and glossy open lips. Supremely strange.

Tank-top ads and panting cover models notwithstanding, Fredericks' writing is poised and lucid. The pressure of gaming, the sublimely ridiculous squabbles, ploys and high school power plays come through vividly. Reality pales in comparison for narrator Judith Ellis, whose head is completely in the game. Why actually connect with people when you can hide? What happens if you do the wrong thing?

Judith knows plenty of people who are hiding: her mom, her ex-best friend, Leia, her neighbor Jonathan, and a classmate named Katie. Each of them hide from their own inability to deal with people's unexpectedness. Mom interferes with Judith's and Jonathan, closing avenues to friendship for "Judith's own good." Katie prefers to pretend rather than to deal with her life and her failings - and her loneliness. Leia's hiding is a betrayal just when Judith needs her the most. But Judith can't tell her she needs her, not yet. It's easier to put on an I-don't-care face, and go on. The consequences for doing the wrong thing almost don't bear consideration. It's easier, each character thinks, to not connect - back off, choose a new route, move away. At all costs, don't confront.

Connections, communication and misunderstandings are central themes to this story. When you live inside your head, you think, rethink, then overthink almost every move you make. You can become a coward, when it really matters. You can let things pass, blow by you, when you really should take a moment and make a stand. Can you come out of your brain, reject fantasyland and act, when it matters? How much power does it take to make a fantasy a reality? Fredericks gives Judith a strong 'inner mind' to discuss each of these ideas.

I have to say I got perverse enjoyment out of this book for a number of bad reasons, not the least of these is that the character obsessed over a single kiss for at least ten pages, and that Sim City's dark side - which is the fun you can have arranging, um, "accidents" for your Sims - is detailed in all its splendidly macabre glory. Hee hee! Also, I'm always attracted to the bad-boy-probably-set-something-on-fire-recently characters -- another fatal flaw of mine!

Perceptive, deliberate and thoughtful, Fredericks' second novel is just as good as her first. I'm looking forward to reading a lot more - and hopefully the marketing department will actually read the copy next time before deciding on the cover art. Hope springs eternal.

1 comment:

a. fortis said...

Ooh! Sounds intriguing. Will have to check the library...