Insert Coin To Continue

336p. S. & S./Aladdin. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481447041. POP
Gr 4–6—Ready Player One for the middle grade crowd. Bryan "Bilbo Baggins" Biggins spends most of his time playing the video game Sovereign of Darkness with his best friend, Oz, and pining after his crush, Jess Alcorn. He has been trying in vain to unlock a secret bonus level at the end of the game, one that Oz keeps telling him just doesn't exist. But he keeps playing, over and over, until he finally reaches it one night before bed. The next day, something strange happens. Bryan's life becomes a role-playing game (RPG). His middle school adventures turn into dramatized video game escapades, including an intense game of dodgeball, a recitation from Romeo and Juliet, and (in one of the strangest quests) an attempt to retrieve a Twinkie from the teachers' lounge vending machine. With fast-paced action and a fun, engaging voice, there is plenty here to hold interest. Some of the interactions with Bryan's adversaries (hall monitor, teacher, school bully, etc.) are a bit over-the-top, but that's to be expected given the subject. The video game parody is clever and would also appeal to adults with a fondness for vintage arcade games.
VERDICT Anderson combines action and realistic middle grade issues with video game references to produce a winning pick that's ideal for gamers or reluctant readers.

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