October 09, 2014

Thursday Review: IN REAL LIFE by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

Summary: There aren't many books, graphic novel or not, that can combine sweetness and seriousness in the way In Real Life does. Written by Cory Doctorow with art by Jen Wang, it's a deceptively simple story at first: the protagonist, Anda, is the new girl in town. She's shy, and has trouble meeting people at school, but when a young woman comes to her computer class and gives a guest talk about girl gamers, Anda is rapt. In Coarsegold Online, she's free to be herself, but also not be herself at the same time, and it's a heady combination.

Turns out Anda really is good at the online gaming thing, and she soon makes herself an invaluable part of the team, making friends with other girls in the process. Online, of course. But, as we all know about MMORPGs, she also encounters a wide range of other people from all over the world. Some of those people, though, are illicitly harvesting game items to sell online to wealthier players—gold farmers, a concept that will be familiar to anyone who read Cory Doctorow's YA novel For The Win (reviewed here). This one proves Doctorow can write girl gamers just as well as he writes about guy gamers.

One day, Anda and her team are dispatched on a raid to go bust the chops of some gold farmers. Normally this would be a straightforward task, but then one of the gold farmers' avatar…talks to Anda. He's just another kid, sitting at a computer in China, but it doesn't take a long conversation before Anda realizes there's something really wrong and exploitative about the whole gold farming business. And that's when things start to get complicated for Anda, both online and IRL.

Image acquired from Forbidden Planet blog - go
check out their awesome feature on In Real Life.

Peaks: This story was really lovely in its empowerment of girl gamers. I thought that was awesome. If you're old enough to remember video gaming BEFORE the internets connected us all, being a girl video gamer was a lonely prospect. If you owned a game console, you could play by yourself in your house, and you might have a friend or two who would play with you sometimes, and chances were pretty good those friends would be guys. If you ventured to an arcade, you were likely to be the only girl there over the age of ten. (And then you grew up to be one of the few girls working for a male-dominated video game review website. Not that this is autobiographical or anything.)

Now, being an introvert, I was totally fine with solitary hours playing Tetris or Super Mario Brothers; but things might have been very different if there had been more girl gamers around. What I love is the sense of teamwork and group accomplishment that Anda gains from being part of her raiding team—qualities that can and do apply to real-life relationships. And it's a slap in the face of everyone who assumes girl gamers don't exist. On the contrary--I can see girl gamers reading this and just glowing at the idea that, here they are, finally represented in a story about THEM. It is, as I said, lovely.

I want to talk about the artwork, too. The artwork just immediately endears you to all the characters and makes you want to hug them. It's fun, cute, colorful…In its style, it reminds me of graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier. But don't mistake me—by cute, I don't mean cutesy. It's very appealing visually, with a looseness in its drawing style that makes it feel…approachable.

Valleys: I don't think there's a single negative thing I have to say about this one, honestly.

Conclusion: One quick thing to add: If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, the authors are going to be at Mrs. Dalloway's bookstore in Berkeley NEXT THURSDAY, Oct. 16. Squee!

I received my copy of this book courtesy of First Second. You can find In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you on October 14th, 2014!


david elzey said...

d'oh! you jumped my GLW review next week, but that's okay, i got to ask cory a few questions that'll be included in the review.

i'm gonna end up seconding almost everything you say here, but if i had a qualm... eh, i'll save it for my review!

nicely summarized and reviewed!

Sarah Stevenson said...

Ack! Sorry! :)

I look forward to reading your take on it, David. So cool that you got to ask Cory some questions, too. I hope I can make it to their event in Berkeley (maybe get my review copy signed!), but things have been hectic, so I'm not sure yet.

david elzey said...

apology unnecessary! it's all good!