Aug 25, 2013

Playing Tyler
by T.L. Costa
Published July 2nd 2013 by Strange Chemistry
Source: ARC from the publisher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Goodreads syynopsis: When is a game not a game?
Tyler MacCandless can’t focus, even when he takes his medication. He can’t focus on school, on his future, on a book, on much of anything other than taking care of his older brother, Brandon, who’s in rehab for heroin abuse… again.
Tyler’s dad is dead and his mom has mentally checked out. The only person he can really count on is his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor, Rick. The one thing in life it seems he doesn’t suck at is playing video games and, well, thats probably not going to get him into college.
Just when it seems like his future is on a collision course with a life sentence at McDonald’s, Rick asks him to test a video game. If his score’s high enough, it could earn him a place in flight school and win him the future he was certain that he could never have. And when he falls in love with the game’s designer, the legendary gamer Ani, Tyler thinks his life might finally be turning around.
That is, until Brandon goes MIA from rehab and Tyler and Ani discover that the game is more than it seems. Now Tyler will have to figure out what’s really going on in time to save his brother… and prevent his own future from going down in flames.

I've read three gaming-related novels within a month (Ender's Game, Playing Tyler and Ready Player One) and may have accidentally spoiled Playing Tyler to myself by reading it immediately after Ender's Game. Ah, well.

One reviewer described Playing Tyler as "Ready Player One meets Ender's Game", and I can somewhat agree with that. Truth be told, Playing Tyler doesn't have the fascinating writing and characterization of Ender's Game or the geeky kick I got out of Ready Player One. Playing Tyler is more reality-bound, and the game Tyler plays is more of a trigger for the moral issues laying in the core of Costa's novel.

Tyler is rather anti-social teenager with ADHD to whom the world of video games makes more sense than real life. It's also an escape from a messed-up situation at home. Costa uses a specific way of writing (no commas or periods, run-on and broken sentences) to illustrate Tyler's way of thinking. I warmed up to Tyler instantly, so much so that I decided to forgive him committing the deadly sin of YA: a bad case of insta-love.

Costa does something ...interesting, and I don't know how to approach it without spoiling something in the plot for you. In the broadest of terms, both Tyler and Ani are participating in something that gets real people killed, and both of them are living with the consequences and 9/11 and its aftermath. It makes them rather conflicted characters, yet I don't know how I feel about it. There was too little meat to it and I failed to see some stance, some solid opinion. Maybe Costa was afraid of burdening a YA novel with politics? Don't know.

In the bottom line, I was slightly disappointed because I entered the book with very high expectations. Nonetheless, it grabbed my attention and kept me on the edge for most of the time. Give it a shot.

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