In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang, 175 pp, RL: MIDDLE GRADE

In Real Life by Corey Doctorow (based on his 2004 story, "Anda's Game") and Jen Wang is a captivating book - both in story and illustrations - that you will read through rapidly, wanting to to reach the satisfying ending. In Real Life is also a book you will return to and think about long after you have finished reading. And, if you are like me and know nothing about MMORPGs - massive multiplayer on-line role-playing games - you will, inspired by Doctorow's superb introduction that you must insist younger readers actually read, either before or after, you may even do some research into the behind-the-scenes economics of these games.

In Real Life finds Anda, a pudgy teen who has recently moved from San Diego, CA, where she was living with her grandmother, to Flagstaff, AZ, where she lives with her parents. New and alone, a special visitor to Anda's computer sciences class puts out an open invitation for girls to join her guild in the game "Coarsegold."  Liza ups the ante by telling the girls that, if they play as girls - using avatars that are girls - they will be given probationary memberships into a special clan, becoming full-fledged members in three months time if they measure up. I had no idea that girls rarely played as girls when participating in MMORPGs, and am sure this one topic could fill a whole graphic novel. Actually, Steve Brezenoff's YA novel Guy in Real Life explores this theme from a different angle, and more. However, there is so much more going on in In Real Life.

Anda has to ask her mother to foot the monthly bill for playing the game, although once she creates her avatar, Kalidestroyer, and begins playing the game, she quickly levels up and draws the attention of Lucy, a gamer who invites Anda to play the game and earn some real cash. Anda follows Lucy through battles until she finds that they are being paid to kill innocent gold farmers who don't fight back. Lucy assures Anda that they are taking advantage of both sides, both groups of people working around the system.

This moment opens yet another new world to Anda, one where young Chinese men and women working under slave-like conditions while they "play" the game, acquiring  items they can then sell for actual money to other players. When Anda befriends a player who suffers from back pains that his employer prohibits him from treating, she is inspired by what she has seen her striking father go through and she encourages him to attempt the same thing - to disastrous results. Through his introduction and the intriguing subject matter of In Real Life, Doctorow draws in readers and presents them with the hard truth that much of the items we buy or games we play have hidden people behind them, people with their own hardships. No doubt, most adults are aware of the issues that have been brought to light in the Foxconn factories in China making iPhones, the ugly truths behind the miraculous devices that so many of us can't live without, but with In Real Life and the subject of MMORPGs, Doctorow and Wang make this issue relevant and understandable to young readers in ways that are hard to ignore, in spite of what an enjoyable read In Real Life is.

Source: Review Copy

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