The latest entry in my newly re titled Minnesota reading segment, "Guy in Real Life" by Steve Brezenoff, is an interesting young adult novel that discusses ideas of identity, self image, and stereotype in that turbulent time of life, high school, through the lens of geeky role playing games.
A sweet, charming, light-hearted teenage nerd love story, “Guy in Real Life” also makes some intriguing points about gender roles and stereotype in youth culture. Told from the perspectives of Svetlana, a slightly snobby art kid who enjoys crafts and runs their school’s D&D club and Lesh, a black clad slacker metalhead dragged into playing MMOs by his socially awkward friend, the two bump into each other before school starts and soon find themselves sharing lunch period. In spite of sharing some mutual suspicion based on each other’s “crowds,” they each begin develop mutual crushes on each other and Lesh, inspired by Svetlana’s creativity, bases an elf character on her on his online game and hilarity (and awkwardness) ensues.
Svetlana, Lesh, and their friends seemed very realistic in their feelings, desires and flaws, both in what they presented to the world; both have strained relationships with their parents and friends alike, and both turn to their gaming alter egos and imaginations to wrestle with these ideas and feelings. Svetlana pours all of her creative effort into her role of Dungeon Master as she argues with her overbearing family, while Lesh uses his elf woman alter ego Svvetlana to experiment with "feminine" feelings mocked among his family and friends. Both turn to each other as kindred spirits in spite of the expectations of their friends and families. While the plot occasionally feels a little thin (in particular the "stalker" subplot), and characters aside from Svet and Lesh a bit less well drawn, the humor, pathos, and witty but realistic dialogue make this a great young adult novel.
While the setting is mainly incidental to the story, it's details make for a great treat for Twin Cities dwellers. Set in the western St. Paul neighborhoods of Midway, Como, University, and Crocus Hill, Svet and Lesh ride their bikes or drive their awful late model cars around a lot of local landmarks and intersections, making it very easy to picture just where the action was going down (it certainly helps that a lot of my friends and family live in the vicinity of these areas themselves). A nice read, all around and really brought back some memories of my own high school days, especially for citizens of St. Paul.