Book Review: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

Book Review: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

Title: In Real Life
Author: Cory Doctorow
Illustrations: Jen Wang
Publisher: Square Fish
Paperback: 192 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role-playing game where she spends most of her free time. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends.

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer–a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake.

From acclaimed teen author (Little Brother, For the Win) and Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow and Koko Be Good creator Jen Wang, In Real Life is a perceptive and high-stakes look at adolescence, gaming, poverty, and culture clash.

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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. This is an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I was incredibly taken in by Jen Wang’s artwork.  I originally requested a copy of this book because I really like Cory Doctorow and thought the summary of the book looked interesting, but one of the strongest points of the book was the artwork.  It helped a lot in terms of feeling the difference between Anda’s gaming world and how fantastic it was as compared to her “real life” outside of the gaming world.  I also think that the way that the Chinese gold farmers were illustrated did a lot to communicate their situation.

Overall, book is an interesting idea of playing with the idea of “real life” as the title implies.  The conceit of the book, that real life can be in play even in these fantasy worlds of MMOs, was a really interesting one and something that I think a lot of people probably do not think about overly much.  It felt like a very realistic portrayal of a teenager who is able to escape into a game, and I was never taken out of it by the reaction of her parents (being overly protective) or her fellow gamers, who maybe took the game a little too seriously.  It all felt incredibly plausible in a general sense.

That said, I am not entirely sure how strong I felt the solution to the main issue of the book was.  I think that bringing in the idea of organized labor was interesting and something that makes a lot of sense.  I feel like the conclusion of the book just progressed too quickly, however, and as a result, felt like it was not a fully developed conclusion.  I thought the idea was brilliant and really liked the friendship that was built, but was just left feeling like something was missing.  That said, I love Doctorow’s worldview and conviction that the internet is going to potentially lead to people being able to come together and solve some of these bigger problems around the world.  This book is definitely worth a read, and I would love to see a follow up to the story.

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