Sunday, June 30, 2013

Playing Tyler (review)


4/5 stars

Tyler MacCandless hasn't had an easy life.  After his father is killed by a drunk driver, Tyler's brother starts taking pain killers due to his injuries from the accident, eventually leading to a nasty heroin addiction.  On top of that Tyler's mom is mentally checked out -- she's working hard to pay for rehab and to try to keep the family afloat.  To make matters worst Tyler has ADHD and can't focus on anything, especially not school, which leaves his future looking pretty bleak.

If there's one thing he's good at it's video games.  More than anything he wants to be a pilot, even if his grades aren't quite up to snuff.  When Rick Anderson, Tyler's mentor from flying class and surrogate father, gives him a flight simulator video game to beta test, something that'll hopefully help get him into flight school, Tyler feels like his life is looking up.

Playing Tyler (Goodreads | Amazon) is told through two point of views, a narrative style that I often hate, young brilliant Ani who designed the flight simulator and Tyler who's testing it.  For the integrity of the beta test they're not supposed to speak after the installation.  But Tyler recognizes Ani as SlayerGrrl, a talented female gamer who stayed at the top of every high score list until she mysteriously quit gaming.  She's a super geek genius girl and Tyler is smitten.

I'm not going to to lie, the instant attraction between these two was worrisome.  Tyler thinks Ani is the most attractive girl he's ever seen and she thinks Tyler is hot as well.  But they get no attention from anyone else.  For Tyler, that makes some sense since he's got pretty severe ADHD and that might give him some socialization problems.  But I'm always concerned when the only person who recognizes the character's attractiveness is the love interest.

Other reviewers have pointed out problems with the development of Tyler and Ani's relationship that didn't really bother me, mainly that he continued to email her when she didn't respond.  But in Tyler's defense, he's a lonely boy with a very messed up life looking for someone to connect with and Ani had told him they couldn't talk because of Mr. Anderson's rules, not because she wasn't interested.  It may not be the best way to behave, but that doesn't make in unrealistic.  Sometimes the stupid, flawed, problematic things people do is what makes them believable characters.  And seeing Ani's perspective, that the crush is mutual, really negates any problems.

Fortunately, that is not really what this book is about and spends most of it's time in the background of the novel.  Instead of the mopey love story I feared, you get a timely action-packed, fast-paced, high-stakes novel when Ani and Tyler realize the game isn't quite what they thought.  Playing Tyler is the type of book that keeps you up at night, turning the pages because you can't stop.  It's also the type of book that would be easy to spoil if you said too much about the actual plot.  So I can't tell you much more but I do recommend reading it.

FTC disclosure: I received a free advance ebook in exchange for an honest review. 

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