I like to think that my life has been a collection of the things I’ve read and nothing more.
Back before the invention of the Kindle, I was known as the child who voraciously read whatever she could get her hands on. I remember reading encyclopedias from the 20th century, Harry Potter books that were out of order, simply because I didn’t have all of the ones in the series, and any type of books that were given to me by family members. This was all fine and dandy, until my supply started to run out. Coming from a family that was not well-off, it wasn’t always easy to get books that I wanted to read. The library in my school was small and as my taste started to form I found that demand beat supply every time.
Enter the Scholastic book fair: the biggest event to happen to my school every year and the holder of some of the most exciting moments of my childhood. For about a week, stands would be set up in the main corridor of my middle school filled with Midgrade novels, novelty pencils, newly released young adult books with catchy concepts and colorful front covers, and erasers that were more ‘collectible’ than ‘useful’.
This week was a haven for me and my obsession. I dedicated passionate hours to browsing titles, writing down names and authors, reading excerpts and summaries and discoursing with the few friends I did have over whether a book was worth going without lunch money for. I rarely walked away with the books that I saw, instead opting to ask for those books for my birthday or Christmas. Until I saw Gamer Girl. It was love at first sight.
At the time that the 2007 book fair was going on, manga and anime were still niche markets. While it had seen a rise in popularity in larger cities the craze had not yet reached my small rural school. But despite everyone and their mother thinking that Pokemon was the work of the Devil, I had dived headfirst into anime just a few months beforehand. You remember that one kid in your 7th grade class who used to run like a ninja and would correct people’s pronunciation of the word “manga”? That was me. Alternatively, if you were that kid, you need to speak the fuck up because I know there were at least three of you that promised to form a ninja group with me as the leader. Where’s the group, fellas? Why’d you have to leave me in the cold like that?
I wish I remembered how I managed to take the novel home with me that day. Hell, I wish I remembered reading it. The time in-between me owning Gamer Girl and finding it again was a seven-year blur that ended in the sixth (and final) house that my family moved into. Every move I lost a good amount of belongings, whether because of misplacing them or not feeling like they were important enough to hold onto. Imagine my surprise when, a year into settling in a home that I was still skeptical with, I find a book. It’s got two anime girls on the front but mostly text on the inside. Skimming through it doesn’t give me any hints towards, which made me wonder exactly why I would keep a book that I had no recollection of, past buying it?
There came from me a need to understand why, and since the only way I can feel validation is through picking apart the works of people much more successful by myself, I reread Gamer Girl so I could review it. Here’s what I got:
The Good Stuff
I’m not surprised to find that the first element which comes to mind when I think of ‘why’ I would keep this book is also the element that made me purchase it in the first place: the cover.
There’s not much for me to say about the cover other than copious amounts of praise that I am refraining from delivering because we’re already 700 words in. Elise Trinh is the cover artist and also illustrated the “emotes” that appear at the beginning of as each new chapter. They are equally anime-esque portraits of the MC (main character), expressing different emotions in a chart that looks similar to those OC character charts that show up on nearly every artist’s online profile at one point or another. In this instance, the difference with Trihn’s portraits is that they have the added quality of excellent character design.
I’m also not surprised that Trinh’s art holds up as well as it does. Not long after picking this book up again, I went and did some research on the illustrator. I found a DeviantArt account and a website with some more of that phenomenal work. Her most recent works of art show that she was not just a good artist in 2007, but has since elevated her skill to a remarkable level. I’ll add a link to her website for everyone to take a look at (and you definitely should take a look at it).
Next on the list is the opening to the story; namely, the first two paragraphs. They do something that when I first started writing, I would often forget to include and even now, as I work on a new novel and edit an old one, I still have trouble demonstrating. In fact, if the brilliant art was the reason I picked up the book in the first place, then the ‘hook’ of the story is what made me take it home:
“Grandma’s house was a study of crystal and glass and contained 1,153 unicorns.”
What this sentence does is it sets the scene. It also establishes the mood that the majority of the story will build on top of. The rest of the paragraph takes this whimsical sentence and rolls with it, elaborating on the quirks of our MC’s grandmother, before giving us our main setting for the story in the form of an unfamiliar and slightly uncomfortable new home. Which leads me to my next item on the “part of the book that could’ve been a lot worse” list: The plot of Gamer Girl.
Should this review ever get any semblance of attention on it I feel like this statement would get me some flack, but I liked the plot of Gamer Girl a lot. And I’ll be the first person to say that I would completely understand the criticism that would come from saying that. In case you haven’t read Gamer Girl, or haven’t seen the tidbits of ridicule for the novel, I’ll explain the plot in two ways: my version in layman’s terms, and the summary that was published with the novel.
Maddy Starr is an adolescent girl stuck in the middle of her parent’s divorce, which has also stuck her in her grandmother’s house after Maddy’s mother sells their old house in Boston and pulls our heroine out of her private school in the middle of the year. She has a bad first day, meets with the wonderful group of animals named “high school bullies”, and develops a crush on one of the bullies that acts nicer to her than the others do.
To cope with her troubles she indulges in art that is heavily inspired by Japanese manga, along with an MMORPG given to her by her father, Fields of Fantasy. In this MMO, she meets a guy online called Sir Leo and as they play she warms up to him. Eventually, Maddy gets the idea for a manga of her own that involves both high school elements and Fields of Fantasy, and works to submit it to a manga contest with a first place prize of a publishing deal. Meanwhile, she has to deal with an annoying little sister, a mother that just doesn’t understand her, her eccentric father, the new anime club she’s in charge of, and the conflicted feelings she has for both Sir Leo and the bad guy that doesn’t act like a bad guy at all. And thus our story begins.
Alright, there are already issues with this plot. The first issue being that the themes that are tackled are clichéd, and second expressing that elements such as manga and MMOs can ruin a novel if they are not researched and written about properly. For the latter complaint, I can’t defend Gamer Girl that much, except to say that I’ve seen worse depictions of these same types of art multiple times before. One can only see so many TV shows try to properly reference Poke-E-Mans before they start wondering if marketing teams have even looked at a GameBoy.
As for the more “overdone” parts of the plot, I’ll admit that I’m more inclined to tolerate tropes that are close to being trite, because I believe that there is still a market for these themes. My reasoning behind this is ideas such as bullying and children dealing with their parents’ divorce are topics that the public will want to read about, because of how much these problems show up in the real world. Not only that, but a trope is sometimes ran into the ground because its origins came from a place of genuine interest. We wouldn’t have 8 Transformers movies if there wasn’t already a public consensus that giant fighting robots are fucking awesome, and there are enough high school sitcoms out there to prove that an overdone idea will keep getting served as long as there is an audience that will consume it.
Other than those two issues, and maybe some nitpicking, there’s not much wrong about the plot, right? Sure, it’s not the greatest pitch, but it’s got its good points and it definitely doesn’t seem as bad in theory as those CSI episodes about Call of Duty. So what’s wrong with this novel?
Let me show you the summary that was published in the novel. This transcript is verbatim, 100% recreated from the printed version.
ZOMG, IT ROX TO BE A GAMER GIRL!
Maddy’s life: Not so rockin’. Her parent’s split, she’s stuck in a new, small town at a school full of Aberzombies and Haters, she has a crush on someone she really shouldn’t like, and she’s stuck with the nickname Freak Girl. Sometimes it’s enough to retreat into her drawing-her manga is totally important to her-but when she gets Fields of Fantasy for her birthday, she knows she’s found the one place she can be herself. In the game world, Maddy can transform from her regular outcast high school student to Allora, a beautiful Elfin princess with magical powers to take down her enemies with a snap of her fingers and a wave of her wand.
As Allora, Maddy’s virtual life is perfect, and she even finds a little romance. But a real gamer girl understands that real life comes first-Maddy can’t escape from her IRL problems. She has to find ways to kick back at the Haters, rock her manga, and find the new, real-life friends she knows she deserves.
Meet me in Part 2 where I explain exactly what’s wrong with this summary, and how the problem extends to the rest of the book.
Else’s Trihn’s Official Website- http://www.elisetrinh.com/
Credit for the featured image goes to the amazing Key Floris at so-chemicool-art.tumblr.com If you like art and artists in general then you need to see her stuff.