After Maddy’s parents divorce, she’s stuck starting over at a new high school. Friendless and nicknamed Freak Girl, Manga-loving artist Maddy finds refuge in the interactive online game Fields of Fantasy. In that virtual world, she reinvents herself as Allora, a gorgeous elfin alter ego, and meets a true friend in Sir Leo. Maddy can’t hide behind Allora forever, especially as a real-life crush begins edging in on her budding virtual romance. But would anyone pick the real Maddy, gamer girl and Manga freak, over the fantasy?
I love this cover because it gives such a great idea of the story in a minimal way. Right away, you can see that Gamer Girl is about an average girl who is much more confident as her game avatar, that she goes from shy and plain to an elf warrior wielding a staff with the click of a button. I LOVE the way the title separates the 2 girls on the cover. It just screams to be picked up and turned upside down, something I can’t stop doing. The way the blue of the hoodie’s stripes is carried into the elf’s staff balances the cover, as does the way the staff’s angle mirrors the angle of the girl’s arm. It’s these little almost invisible details that make this such a successful design. The white space is nice since the illustrations are so detailed. The only thing I would change is the mix of upper and lower case letters in the title. It’s a nice font, but the letters could use some breathing room, and the font used for the author’s name could have worked nicely for an all-lowercase title.
Gamer Girl is a cute, fast read. One where all the conflicts get solved or addressed, and you can see the outcome from the beginning. On closer inspection on my copy, which I picked up at a Goodwill, it’s a Scholastic book fair book. What that means to me is that it’s that one book fair book that seems SO mature because the main character’s in high school, where book fairs don’t exist anymore, but is really written more for a middle school audience. Not that the book talks down to the reader or anything, it’s just predictable, with conflicts that aren’t any deeper than they appear to be. Gamer Girl covers a lot in a fairly slim novel; bullies, feeling like a loser, dealing with divorced parents, finding somewhere to fit in, and finding an escape from your everyday life.
- gaming – Maddy gets into an online game that her dad plays, and finds an escape in roleplaying, being whoever she wants, and meeting a friend who she can talk to without her bullies around. While Maddy likes the game because it’s a way to escape from her problems, she also deals with her dad’s addiction to it. He’s too advanced to play with her, too busy to play with her, and blows off visiting his daughters when he feels like playing instead – he’s basically a gaming stereotype. I really enjoyed Maddy’s experience with Fields of Fantasy thought. She thinks she’s nothing like her elf warrior, Allora, but the game gives her hope, especially when she meets Sir Leo.
- friends – The friendships in Gamer Girl feel authentic, from the way the friends you move away from forget you, to the way the outcasts can be bullies just like the popular kids. Maddy is hurt when her big city Boston friends are too busy with each other to talk to her, when she’s one doing all the work of visiting and keeping in touch, but I think this is very true to how moving actually affects friendships, especially when you’re in school. Maddy’s 8-year-old sister makes new friends almost instantly while Maddy struggles to find new friends and fights to keep her old ones. When Maddy does make new friends, she’s surprised to find that they are just as judgmental as the popular kids she despises. They don’t want to welcome Chad into the manga club they feel is their safe haven. They want to treat him exactly as his friends have treated them, and they don’t question their ‘right’ to bully him. Maddy learns her lesson about the us vs. them mentality, and Chad learns his about how keeping his mouth shut is a bad as being the bully himself.
- parents – Maddy is really hard on her mom at first. She blames her mom for everything from her unhappiness, to moving in with her nutty grandma, to leaving her dad – it’s all her mom’s fault. While her mom does make mistakes, she also works really hard to keep her daughters happy. After a heart-to-heart, Maddy realizes that her mother is stressed too – that she’s not the only one dealing with starting over in a new place. Maddy also comes to terms with the fact that her dad isn’t as reliable as she thought, that getting blown off by your own parent hurts more than anything else she’s dealing with, and that her parents are people with their own problems.
- predictable – As I mentioned, Gamer Girl is by no means surprising. Despite efforts to throw readers off the scent, Sir Leo is exactly who you think he is in real life. I kept waiting for the book to throw me for a loop and reveal Maddy’s online crush to be someone totally unexpected…the bully? the friend? someone she hasn’t met yet? Nope. The real life guy who acts like a knights in shining armor (but only when he has to) is the one who pretends to be a knight online.
- typos – Sir Leo has great grammar, but a friend of his logs on as him once, and suddenly there are errors all over the place. Maddy is still tricked into thinking it’s the genuine Sir Leo though, and I only now realized that the errors were meant as a clue. But using ‘shore’ instead of ‘sure’ threw me, and later on ‘heard’ is used when ‘herd’ is meant, and it wasn’t online either. It just bothers me because it’s a book fair book and I think it should be held to a higher standard as something clearly meant to be in an educational setting. A heard/herd error shouldn’t be in any published book, but I find it a bigger bummer in this one.
- Chad – First of all, his name is Chad Murray. I can’t be the only whose brain went Chad Michael Murray every single time I read that name…right? Anyway, Chad is the popular guy who really has a heart of gold and all that. But at one point, Maddy has to literally beg him to stand up for her in front of an entire class. I mean, it’s one thing to write your hero with flaws, but I had trouble liking a guy who, multiple times, knows that he’s doing the wrong thing and does it anyway. Maddy’s insecure, but I would much rather have seen her accept a detention when standing up for herself didn’t work out than beg a guy to come to her rescue. If he’s such a great guy, he should have done it on his own, and even then it wouldn’t have been completely on his own since they had recently talked about how he should defend people by standing up to his jerk of a best friend.
“Ooh, you punched Billy Henderson?” he cried, standing up and handing me my books. I took them gratefully. “It’s about time somebody stood up to the guy. Impressive. Very impressive.”
“Yeah,” I muttered. “Real impressive. It’ll be even more impressive when I get to explain to my mom why I’ve got detention.” – pg. 47 Matt + Maddy
“And you’re going to love…” I trailed off, my eyes catching sight of Chad Murray, sitting in a booth at the far end of the restaurant, alone and reading, a cup of coffee sitting in front of him.
“What?” Black Raven demanded, looking in my direction. “Ah, one of the sheep has strayed from the herd. We should attack now, while it’s alone and helpless.” – pg. 171-172 Maddy + Black Raven