Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...

Where Fantasy Meets Reality

Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang try to fit a lot of big themes into the short, but lovely, graphic novel In Real Life.

Where Fantasy Meets Reality

BOOK REPORT for In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

Cover Story: Two Sides of the Same Coin
BFF Charm: Big Sister
Swoonworthy Scale: N/A
Talky Talk: Big Ideas
Arty Art: Real vs. Fantasy
Bonus Factors: Girl Gamers, Real Bodies
Relationship Status: LFM

Cover Story: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Although the girls on the cover don’t look exactly alike, there’s enough of a resemblance that one could assume that they’re related in some manner. The differences—the computer and baggy sweatshirt on one side and the sword and red hair on the other—make me think of doppelgangers or alternate selves.

P.S.—I totally love it.

The Deal:

Before a brash, assertive woman visited Anda’s class to talk about Coarsegold Online, a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game in which the visitor—Liza—leads an all-girl guild of gamers, Anda hadn’t really ever thought about gaming. But after Liza’s visit, Anda couldn’t help her curiosity, and so creates an account and logs on to a world that previously only existed in her imagination. A world filled with quests and fantastical creatures and epic battles … and a few lessons she has to learn the hard way.

BFF Charm: Big Sister

Anda is sweet, trustworthy, and totally naive. She needs someone who’s a little older and a little wiser—or at least someone who has experience in the gaming world—to proverbially hold her hand through this time in her life. I’m not the ideal candidate, exactly, but I do feel like I have a little more world smarts than she. Plus, I felt a connection to her from the very start; I feel a little like she’s a younger version of someone very much like me, and I want to shield her from the hurt life can bring.

Swoonworthy Scale: N/A

Anda spends most of her time, at least throughout In Real Life, in the online world of Coarsegold Online. (The story, too, is short.) That doesn’t leave much time for any sort of relationship, although she does make a few friends of the non-romantic type via the game.

Talky Talk: Big Ideas

Cory Doctorow is known for his social commentary, and there’s certainly plenty of that in In Real Life. Anda discovers a whole new fantasy world in Coarsegold Online, but actually learns more about the real world through playing than one might expect. The themes within the book—females in gaming, the stigma attached to online gaming/MMORPGs, living and working conditions in other countries, the economics of gaming—are all important, but they’re also larger than this short story. Therefore, the story at times feels a little rushed and occasionally a tad bit heavy handed.

Arty Art: Real vs. Fantasy

Jen Wang has a fabulous style. Her characters aren’t too cartoony, but they fit the gaming style of the story nicely. She also switches between the “real” world and the world of Coarsegold Online without missing a beat.

Pages via Jen Wang’s website.

Bonus Factor: Girl Gamers

As a girl who is also a(n occasional) gamer, I really appreciate the fact that this book’s main character is a girl and a gamer, and many of the secondary characters are also ladies who play. (I used to play World of Warcraft pretty religiously, but as the time I needed to devote to work and other responsibilities increased, my gaming got put on hold.) I think it’s important for young women to understand that gaming, be it online or via console, isn’t just a “boy thing.”

Bonus Factor: Real Bodies

The “real life” characters in In Real Life—even the background ones—all look like real, unique people rather than society’s ideals; Anda’s not the skinniest or the fittest girl. I love that Doctorow and Wang made their characters so realistic. Anda’s avatar, and the other avatars in the game, are a whole lot less realistic, but that’s gaming for you. (And a much longer conversation than we have time for today.)

Casting Call:

Ariel Winter (with brown hair) as Anda

Ariel Winter (with red hair) as Kalidestroyer

Relationship Status: LFM

You were so short, Book, that we’d barely started before our date came to an end. Your characters were interesting, and your story even more so. I’m definitely left LFM* (looking for more).

*Yes, I know this is in reference to looking for more people for a group, but it works in this usage, too, OK?

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from First Second. I received neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. In Real Life will be available Oct. 14.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
K