The Leveller by Julia Durango
Set in the near future, this entertaining and fun YA scifi thriller will appeal to gamers and dystopia fans. Nixy Bauer is a Leveller – she’s commissioned by parents to go into a virtual reality game world called the MEEP to haul their kids back into the real world: “I’m fast and I never fail to deliver.” Now she’s being asked by Diego Salvador, “zillionaire founder” of MeaParadisus Inc. aka MEEP to level his son, Wyn, who has apparently blockaded himself in his custom created virtual world behind a maze of obstacles, and isn’t planning to come back.
MEEP is nicely set up – teens can create their own worlds and their own avatars, all while in a trance in their own room. They can battle skeleton armies, tote laser guns and add physical enhancements to themselves, and be as brave, popular and attractive as they desire. But while a few questions are raised about the ethics of virtual reality versus its potential benefits, the emphasis is really on the action and a perfunctory romance.
Nixy’s narration is a combination of teen snark and hardboiled bounty hunter, quirkily laced with a couple of Norwegian curse words, and she is as confident and competent in the real world as she is in the virtual one. However, other characters including her game developer parents, her long time friends and her new lurve are thinly sketched, and the villain of the piece (or is s/he?) seems a little too convenient to be credible. Though some of the characters have possibly Hispanic and Asian names, there is little in their physical descriptions to confirm their ethnicity.
Much like the timer hacks that the gamers use to prolong their stay in the MEEP, Ms Durango has tacked on a few unanswered questions and a couple of loose ends to extend the book to a sequel. Please don’t do it. The Leveller is a fine read as a standalone but almost certainly won’t take the weight of a second book.
See No Color by Shannon Gibney
Carolrhoda Lab, due out November 1, 2015.
This excellent novel about understanding identity focuses on 16 year-old Alexandra Kirtridge – a baseball phenom and a transracial adoptee, a person of color adopted into a white family. Up until now, her life has been focused on baseball, encouraged by her father, who is also her coach, but a series of events, precipitated by her 11 year-old sister asking “What do you all make of Alex being the only black person in our family?” causes her to examine deeply who she is.
Her parents have done what they feel is their best for her, but once Alex begins to explore who she is, she comes to believe that they have tried to make her white, like them. Instead of celebrating her blackness they proclaim that “We don’t even see color.”. She feels unmoored – the black kids at school bully her for her white clothes and speech, and her skin color separates from the white community. As Alex gropes towards understanding and owning herself, her first visit to a black hairdresser brilliantly encapsulates her and her family’s struggles.
Along her journey, she starts dating a black boy, seeks out her birth father and her physical development threatens her baseball star status. Each of these way markers brings Alex closer to understanding her present and future identity.
Alex is a well-written confused and searching teen, maybe somewhat autobiographical judging by the author’s blurb. There are no easy answers for her, and what she believes are solutions may not turn out to be. I found her emotional journey a little unsatisfying and somewhat muddled – it did not seem to evolve organically but rather was a series of plot points. But there is a wholly realistic feel to the resolution and Alex’s conviction that she knows her direction if not the endpoint.
There are few books for teens about transracial adoptees, so this culturally significant book should definitely be on the shelves of public and middle/high school libraries.