Book Review: In Real Life (Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Square Fish

Pages: 175

Release Date: February 13th 2018

Summary:

Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. 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. Gaming is, for Anda, entirely a good thing.

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.

Review:

This is an interesting short read with gorgeous art and a well-intentioned message – I just think it tried to cover too much in a short space.

After a school visit from one of the organisers of Coarsegold Online, Anda starts playing the game with a group of female gamers. I enjoyed this aspect of the story: it touched on sexism and misogyny in gaming and Coarsegold offered a safe and welcoming space for female gamers. This was really interesting and was great for Anda’s character development.

We then get to the point of the story: Anda meets Raymond, a gold farmer in the game, who’s an overworked teenager in China in real life. Gold farmers in games are often from third world countries and they collect in-game items and valuable objects to sell to other players for real life money. Anda’s friends in the game point out how that’s not in the spirit of the game and they start targeting groups of gold farmers. However, when Anda speaks Raymond, she sees the terrible predicament he’s in: he needs this job to survive, not in the game but in real life.

Anda then decides she has to help him in some way. She tells Raymond that he and his friends should demand healthcare from their employer, which of course leads to him getting fired. Anda spreads a message among the other gold farmers to try and find Raymond, who turns up at the end and says he’s got a better a job now. And that’s basically it.

Everything felt a bit simplified when this is a complex issue. While I know there were good intentions there, I just don’t think it all came across well. Anda’s help came across more as some kind of white saviour complex and it only made matters worse for Raymond: nothing she did really helped him, though I see how she was changed for the better by meeting him and gaining some understanding of another country and culture.

On the plus side, there was a positive message about female gaming and feeling comfortable with yourself, and the art by Jen Wang is just fantastic. I think this book was too short to really explore all the issues it wanted to and it just wasn’t for me.

Book Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker (Jen Wang)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: First Second

Pages: 288

Release Date: February 13th 2018

Summary:

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

Review:

This was a really lovely, modern fairy tale with beautiful art and a great message about being yourself and accepting others.

Sebastian is a prince by day and Lady Crystallia by night. Frances is his new dressmaker who longs for her talent to be recognised, but this can’t happen while Sebastian’s passion for dresses stays secret.

This was a really cute story with important undertones. I loved the fun the two had designing dresses together, going to parties and just generally bonding. It was great to see a story that breaks gender norms and shows another side of life. In this book, clothes don’t have a gender, dresses aren’t just for girls and society has to learn to accept that. Sebastian loves getting dressed up and that’s all there is to it: no big deal.

The friendship that bloomed between Sebastian and Frances was really sweet and it was great to see their relationship grow and strain under the weight of their secrets. By the end of the book, you’re hoping they’ll sort out their differences and get together, and that society/Sebastian’s father will get over any issues they have with a prince wearing dresses.

The artwork is really stunning and I loved seeing Frances’ new creations and Sebastian transform as he wore them. The colour scheme is really beautiful and the character’s faces are so expressive you always know exactly what they’re thinking.

This a beautiful book with a fun story and great message that I hope a lot of people will read.

4