Review

Review: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

When I saw this book on Netgalley, my first thoughts were ‘YESSS a graphic novel about video games!’ and that the cover art was completely gorgeous. The instant I was approved, I sat down and read it in one go.

The story begins with our small-town protagonist, Anda, being introduced to the world of Coarsegold Online. I wasn’t sure about the way it was introduced to her – a woman comes in to Anda’s school and gives a talk on her female only guild on the game. I’m not sure what sort of high school would allow a guest speaker to encourage young people to play MMOs, but hey ho… as implausible as it is, the reader and Anda are quickly introduced to the game, which means they can start the exploration proper.

Like many MMO players, including myself, Anda plays to escape from the real world. She is a shy girl, with little self-confidence and not many friends. The ‘real world’ panels have a much starker colour palette, in comparison to the bright and beautiful colours of the virtual world, which I thought was a nice touch. Definitely an excellent representation of how many gamers feel – I know that I tend to start playing ridiculous amounts of online games when I’m feeling particularly down. Anda is an MMO newbie thrown into the deep end, which gives readers who may not be familiar with MMO mechanics a chance to catch up. However, to experienced MMO players there will be many recognisable scenes. As Anda grows in confidence within the game, this is reflected in real life – and she even dyes her hair to match her character.

I can think of many books set in or around video games, but none of them have the sort of message that In Real Life does. Most of the time, the video game is the story, and real life takes a back seat. However, in this particular book, the video game opens up our eyes to the real world. Anda befriends a young Chinese boy on Coarsegold Online, but he’s not playing for pleasure. He is one of the millions of ‘gold farmers’ who descend upon various online worlds every day, who work twelve hour shifts with no breaks, for a tiny wage.

One of Anda’s guild mates, who sort of takes Anda under her wing, recruits her to help with a ‘quest’. This ‘quest’ (unofficial) involves killing the gold farmer’s characters, in what I can only assume is a PvP of sorts. This is where Anda meets her new friend, when she chases after him. And whilst they only get to chat for a bit at first, she is instantly concerned with how he is being treated. She realises that this is someone doing their job, that he has no choice if he wants to eat. This leads to Anda trying to take action outside of the game – and I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers!

A cute read for fans of MMOs, that also has a deeper message, as well as being very familiar to anyone who has good online friends and hates the stigma that comes with the ‘online friend’ label. The art is beautiful, a cutesy style with some wonderful colour palettes, and the story means well even if it never quite hits the mark. I just want to leave you with this quote, for anyone who scorns at the idea of online friends:

‘”This life is real too. We’re communicating, aren’t we?” — In Real Life, page 188.

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Review

Review: This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

This One Summer is the story of two young girls, just coming into their teenage years, who meet up every summer by the sea. It is a tale of long, hot summer days and cool nights, crushes on older boys and that awkwardness that comes with initial contact, growing out of old habits and interests and most of all, growing up.

Rose is probably about thirteen or fourteen years old, and Windy a year and a half younger. The two of them have that innocence of the young, whilst showing interest in things beyond their years. In the day they play on the beach and in the woods, at night they secretly rent out classic horror films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Nightmare on Elm Street from the local shop, where they also (at least in Rose’s case) take an interest in the local boys. The story perfectly captures that time in life where everything is changing, and you’re sort of stuck in a limbo between a child and a young adult.

Beyond the idyllic seaside setting though, is a darker picture. Although at first it appears that Rose’s family is a close one, threads begin to unravel and the reader sees that her mother is withdrawn and sullen. Rose is not the only one having troubles: the story also follows a group of teenagers from Awago Beach (through Roses’s eyes), until the two stories end up twisting together in a heart-breaking conclusion. The carefree summer days are interspersed with tense moments, until the truth finally comes out toward the end of the book.

From the very beginning I loved the art-style, but I wasn’t sure about the choice of going for an all blue colour palette. However, it grew on me and actually worked really well within the story: I was reminded of the cool sea breeze, chilly summer nights and the salty ocean – all very fitting for this particular book. The fact that the older boy that Rose had a crush one wasn’t typically ‘handsome’ was also a good move: young adult books with movie star crushes seem all too common.

My main issue with the book was the rather open ending. It concluded some things, but many questions were left unanswered. As well as this, I felt the word ‘like’ was rather overused. I know it’s quite common for teenagers to overuse that word, but it gets on my nerves reading it! It could have been used less, and still given a similar impression.

Overall, a really lovely coming-of-age graphic novel that covers much of the awkwardness of that stage between being a child and a young adult – and it also covers and discusses some more adult themes. With some lovely art and interesting characters (and realistic), it could also be a great way for fans of contemporary to start with graphic novels.

Review

Review: Aphrodite, Goddess of Love (Olympians #6) by George O’Connor

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads
I am a big mythology buff, as well as a fan of graphic novels, so I was instantly drawn to this book when I saw it on Netgalley. It is part of a series about each of the Olympian gods, this one focusing on the first appearance of Aphrodite, through her immortal life until her role in the Trojan War, narrated by the three of the Muses.

I wasn’t sure of the target audience when I requested this one, but I’d say it was aimed at middle grade and above – many of the stories are toned down for the reader, for example Aphrodite’s birth is originally quite a bit more graphic than it appears in this book. It is definitely not one for young children though – I feel like the names and events would be too much to take in, and much of the humour would probably go right over their heads. It was quite nice to have these humorous moments that relied on a previous knowledge of Greek mythology: for example, Ares’ and Aphrodite’s flirting as a nod to their later affair, hints of Zeus’ infidelity, Aphrodite wondering why she has little effect on Athena, Hestia and Artemis, who were the three virgin goddesses. Despite this, I think it is a great way for those unfamiliar with Greek mythology to learn a little about it.

The representations of the Olympian gods were quite ‘standard’, as you’d expect them to appear, with the exception of Hera. Often represented as beautiful, being the ‘motherly’ wife of Zeus (despite some of her horrific acts), Hera looks more like a stern school-mistress in this, with her sallow skin, gaunt cheeks and hair pulled high and tight. It was an interesting representation, more accurately representing her personality and jealous character than some other works.

As for the artwork, it wasn’t outstanding but the forms were nice and the artist chose a lovely colour palette. My favourite image was the first full one we saw of Aphrodite, just as she comes out of the ocean with a dress made of seawater and flowers sprouting up at her feet.

Recommended for mythology fans, and a great read for anyone wanting to read more about the Greek legends. The author includes a small notes section and profile on Aphrodite at the back, for anyone wanting more information.