Classroom Review: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

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So, first I have to start with a bit of full disclosure: Although I am not really a “gamer,” I’ve recently been introduced to the World of Warcraft through my masters degree program at Full Sail University, and I have to say the experience was enthralling. Why do I bring this up? Because having this experience gave me a richer understanding of what the protagonist of In Real Life was experiencing in the Coarsegold Online universe she played in. Is this prior knowledge necessary? No. But I’m sure that your students will have WAY more experience in the world of online gaming than I do, and that will make reading this book that much more immersive.

In Real Life tells the story of Anda (female protagonist! YAY!), a high school girl who discovers Coarsegold Online, a massive multiplayer online game similar to pretty much any game with the word “craft” in it. What I like about this book is the averageness (that’s a word, right?) of her situation: average high school girl, with average high school problems, and average protective parents. While Coarsegold Online offers Anda freedom and escapism, she isn’t escaping from anything more dire than the usual teenage problems, which is the genius of this book. Doctorow puts the focus on the in game story, which gives more weight and importance to what goes on there, and the possible real life repercussions of the game world. This pays off later in the story, and it is very satisfying storytelling.

On it’s surface there is a nice message about gaming here, but Doctorow and Wang also do a great job of selling the social justice angle and the importance of being a world citizen. Who would have thought I would learn about gamer economics and the working conditions of Asian gold farmers from a YA graphic novel? But that’s the thing about Doctorow; he has a sneaky way of teaching kids a little something about the world around them. Especially when it comes to letting one’s voice be heard, and standing up for what is right.

I enjoyed this book. Wang’s fluid art style was very clean and dynamic, without being overly busy, and the shift between real-life and in-game was handled deftly.

Good for ages: 11 and up. Honestly, there are no objectionable scenes in this book, but I would wonder if an 8 year old would even be interested in some of the dynamics here. I will say if you are trying to get a young girl to read more, Anda might be a character she would want to meet.

Classroom Rating: 8/10. Why not a 9 or a 10? This was a fine book with a great premise, and the creators followed through on the the promise of the book. My issue is that it stops. Abruptly. I felt like more care could have been given to certain character development, especially with Anda and her dad. There was something there that didn’t quite live up to some of the set-up. This would make a great series, and the problem is that it feels like the precursor to a larger story at the end.

What Could You Teach with In Real Life? This is the first book I’ve reviewed that would also work outside of the Language Arts classroom. I could see this working in a social studies class with the little bit about workers’ rights in there. They also explore cultural differences between people in the US and Asia, however, that is a little surface level. As part of a larger unit, this book could work well to teach cause and effect, compare and contrast, and of course characterization. Beyond that, it’s also a very good book to just have in your classroom library.

Highlights: Anda’s connection with the little gold-farmer is particularly poignant, especially in the end. Loved it.

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