Published: July 2nd 2013 by Strange Chemistry
Format: eARC, 304 pages
Genres: Science Fiction
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When is a game not a game?
Tyler MacCandless can’t focus, even when he takes his medication. He can’t focus on school, on his future, on a book, on much of anything other than taking care of his older brother, Brandon, who’s in rehab for heroin abuse… again.
Tyler’s dad is dead and his mom has mentally checked out. The only person he can really count on is his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor, Rick. The one thing in life it seems he doesn’t suck at is playing video games and, well, thats probably not going to get him into college.
Just when it seems like his future is on a collision course with a life sentence at McDonald’s, Rick asks him to test a video game. If his score’s high enough, it could earn him a place in flight school and win him the future he was certain that he could never have. And when he falls in love with the game’s designer, the legendary gamer Ani, Tyler thinks his life might finally be turning around.
That is, until Brandon goes MIA from rehab and Tyler and Ani discover that the game is more than it seems. Now Tyler will have to figure out what’s really going on in time to save his brother… and prevent his own future from going down in flames.
Playing Tyler is T. L. Costa’s début novel, a unique, humourous and daring story about two genius teenages navigating the dark secrets behind a new flight simulator. The characters and deep issues examined in the book took me by surprise, but the slow plotting in the first half left me wishing for more action.
The book is written in first person, alternating between the points of view of the two protagonists. Tyler is a talented gamer with a broken family life. He’s been diagnosed with with ADHD. It was first quite jarring for me to read from his perspective – his thoughts all run together and jump all over the place and he has a hard time focussing. I got used pretty quickly though, and Tyler’s got a great sense of humour – it’s dry and he’s frequently sarcastic. Ani designs games for a living, and a research company is putting her through college. Yale. She sets up the new flight simulator console for Tyler to try out, and is immediately struck by him. I like them both – Ani’s chapters are welcome after the hectic confusion of Tyler’s. They’re both believable characters who I found easy to sympathise with, especially because they had such dark lives outside of their gaming lives.
Costa’s plotting could have used a bit more work. Although I like that the action of the book doesn’t start immediately, and we get a chance to get to know the characters and their world before everything goes to hell, the build-up is too slow. At the 50% mark, barely anything has happened and the author has left really obvious clues as to what the main conflict of the story will be (it’s also on the cover). One of the main reason for this slow progression is the large(-ish) number of sub-plots: Ani’s father is a veteran who’s been imprisoned after a flashback episode where he hurt law enforcement and her mother has unrealistic, often harsh expectations of her and isn’t proud of her achievements, Tyler’s brother has been institutionalised for drug abuse and his mother has effectively shut down. It’s a deeper novel than I’d been expecting, and I really enjoyed this aspect of Playing Tyler even as I despaired at the ponderous plot.
Playing Tyler is a great story, and will be enjoyed by younger readers (both male and female). I will be looking forward to Costa’s books in the future.