The Good War

Delacorte. Jan. 2021. 208p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780593173657.
Gr 5-7–The kids at Ironville Middle School love “The Good War,” a popular WWII-based video game. It’s no wonder that when math teacher Ms. B starts an esports club, that’s the game they want to play, with two teams competing against each other as Axis vs. Allies. It’s not long before symbols of hatred from that era in history show up in the mannerisms and clothing of the kids on the Axis team, leading to a violent confrontation between the two sides. Strasser tells a compelling, character-driven tale, demonstrating a keen understanding of how tweens think. Juggling eight different characters, including upstanding Caleb, socially anxious Emma, misunderstood footballer Gavin, and bullied Zach, Strasser creates authentic and appealing individuals. Reminiscent of the characters in The Breakfast Club, the esports members evolve over the course of the novel, changing the way they see themselves—and their peers. None of the students’ race or ethnicity are described; the town of Ironville is described as “mostly white.” The novel drives home the consequences of the Axis students’ dangerous embrace of hate images they have not been educated about and don’t understand. The lesson is a bit undermined by the flawed premise that a public school teacher would permit seventh graders to play a rated M, first-person shooter game in a school club, even if they enjoy it at home.
VERDICT A timely message, engagingly told. Purchase for middle grade collections.

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