Book Review: Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

A guy and a girl collide–quite physically–at 2:30am in the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota.  Lesh wears black, likes metal and videogames.  Svetlana is a crafter who embroiders things, listens to music that is best described as quirky, and is into RPGs.  The two should theoretically never speak to one another again, but that’s not what happens.  Once they’re in each other’s lives, they’re in them.  The two start talking at school, and it isn’t long before they realize that there’s something real between them, awkward as it may be.

In terms of books about awkward teens, this one is very real, sometimes to an uncomfortable degree.  Brezenoff’s latest offering pulls no punches in letting readers know that these teens are totally real–and totally awkward.  Try to ignore comparisons to some of the big names this novel is being compared to, because this is a story all its own.

What’s great about Brezenoff’s novel is that the book works on multiple levels, and it’s up to the reader to decide which one(s) to focus on.  There’s tons here for readers to take a look at: ruminations about MMORPGs, gaming, geekdom, self-identity, growing up, falling in love, etc.  All of it is handled with care, understanding, and total respect for the characters.

It’s also really funny.  Brezenoff’s ability to get into the heads of both characters (Lesh and Svetlana take turns narrating the book, and both are distinctive and wonderful) makes them all the more real for readers.  They both have flaws but remain inherently likable, and it’s likely that readers will root for their romance.  Props to Brezenoff for never allowing the romance to overpower the rest of the story, nor letting it become overly-saccharine.

At times, the gamer-speak can be a little wearying, especially for readers who aren’t enmeshed in the world(s) of gaming and RPGs, but it never completely overtakes the narrative.  There’s some interesting stuff here about gender politics and gaming, but it takes a backseat to the characters and their stories, which is pretty much perfect.

This is a great read for fans of contemporary YA who like their teens real, a little awkward, and a lot geeky.  Recommended.

Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff.  Balzer + Bray: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review.

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