Illustrated by Jen Wang
Anda gets invited by a guild runner to join up playing a MMORPG (Massive-multiplayer-online-roll-playing-game), Coarsegold Online, as a female avatar in an all female guild. She makes a friend in game and they take on missions that pay real money. Their missions are to exterminate gold farmers who sell in-game gold to players for real money. It’s a lucrative system that is a real part of most MMORPGs. Anda makes a friend with one of the gold farmers and finds out he’s a teen named Ah Duo (Raymond in English) from China. Raymond is the same age as her, but he's farming gold online as an actual paying job in China. He has health issues, and Anda convinces him that he needs to stand up for himself with his boss, but things don’t turn out well for Raymond. Anda discovers a darker side of world economics played out in her game, and struggles with how to really help her new friend.
The storyline moved pretty fast and could have benefited from some more space and more pages. We never see Raymond in real life even though we do see some of his surroundings, like his place of work. It is hinted that Anda has some mental health issues in her real life with her peers and her parents, but none of them are really explored or dealt with aside from a very surface-level first-step that she takes towards the end of the story. The ending leaves on a hopeful note for Raymond’s coworkers, but I doubt they would have had any more success than Raymond did in trying to unionize what is essentially a sweatshop for digital products. There are a lot of really complicated elements that have their surfaces scratched, and many of which Doctorow dives into a little deeper in the introduction - problems with world economics, the unknown effects digital environments and economies have on physical people and their lives, and the issues of predatory and bullying behavior that can happen in online gaming. This book doesn't paint the greatest picture of online gaming, which isn't always a negative or predatory experience for the players. Hopefully, families won't read this and assume all MMORPGs lead to subjugation and predation around the world.
The biggest bright spot in this book is Jen Wang's beautiful colors and innocent illustrations. This early work of hers showcases some of the cornerstones of her designs that now frequent her stand-alone books, so it's nice to see some of the development of that style here.
Sara's Rating: 7/10
Suitability Level: Grades 6-12
Tags: Rating: 7/10, Suitability: Elementary School, Suitability: Middle School, Suitability: High School, Graphic Literature, Fantasy, Friendship
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