To say this book surprised me would be the understatement of the year. About five pages into the first chapter I was all ‘wtf am I reading?’ and ‘what does any of this mean?’ I was fully convinced this book might turn into my first DNF in ages because I couldn’t imagine getting hooked into a story half of which meant nothing to me. And then I did...get hooked that is.
The thing is, I know nothing about video games, I don’t play them and I’m not even the slightest bit curious about them either. And a lot of the story in this book is all about video games. In fact, about half the story takes place in Heroes of Legend, and therefore in a world I’m totally unfamiliar with. The characters use terms and abbreviations I don’t understand. Initially I felt so far out of my depth that I ended up bookmarking this Wikipedia page: Glossary of Video Game Terms. It proved to be a big help, until I got so caught up in the story that I stopped caring or noticing that there were terms I didn’t understand. Of course, that was before I realised there was a very good Glossary of gaming terms and abbreviations at the end of the book.
The ‘am I gay or what’ issue plays a relatively small role in this story. Sure, it takes Drew some time to get his head around the fact that he’s fallen for a guy, but not very long and he doesn’t obsess about it nor does he get all angsty. No, this story is far more about figuring out what are and what aren’t ‘real’ friendships. Can friendships with people you’ve only ‘met’ online / in game be as real and deep as those with the people you meet face to face? Drew is inclined to think that they can’t, while Kit’s closest relationships appear to be with people he’s never met face to face. Unless Drew can accept that connecting with people is real, whether you do it in the real or in a virtual world, he will lose Kit.
Like I said, I lost myself in this story. I got completely caught up in Drew and Kit getting together and finding a balance between their two different approaches to life. In many ways this was a sweet story with a definite young-adult feel to it. The on page intimacy is sweet and innocent, while growing up, learning to compromise, and accepting yourself as well as others exactly for who they are, were the bigger themes in this book.
I love how this story made me think about the friends I have made online, and how sometimes it’s easier to talk to people I have never met—and may never meet—face to face than it is to open up to friends I meet in real life. In fact, I think that’s the reason this story really worked for me; I completely got both Kit and Drew. I made that journey from ‘online people aren’t really real’ to ‘some of my best and most trusted friends ‘only’ live in my computer’ some time ago. And of course books, for me, always work best when I can truly relate to what’s happening in the story.
I fully expected this to turn into a ‘if you’re not into video games this might not be the book for you’ sorta review but, as you can see, that is not what happened. While it may still be true that there’s too much gaming and too little real life interaction between characters in this book for some readers, I can honestly say that whether or not Drew and Kit were in a game stopped making a difference for me pretty quickly after starting this book.
I’m so glad I took a chance on a book that might not have been for me at all. This sweet, thought-provoking and very well written story fascinated and charmed me so much I couldn’t put the book down until I’d finished it.
On a final note; this is the second book I’ve read by Alexis Hall and the second time he’s managed to blow me away with his story-telling and writing skills. Clearly I need to go back and read his other books as soon as possible. (Click on the link for my review of For Real)