YA Book Review: Novels for Teen Gamers, Ready Player One vs. Erebos

Novels for Teen Gamers: Ready Player One vs. Erebos

What is a video game-themed book review without a little friendly competition? In the colder months of the year it’s tempting to spend lots of time indoors and possibly, online. These books offer teen gamers a way of taking a screen break while experiencing some of the same excitement through books. Authors Ernest Cline and Ursula Poznanski have both written young adult novels which capture the all-encompassing and sometimes addictive world of video games, leading to inevitable comparisons between the two titles. Each book has its strengths and weaknesses, but the eager reader and gamer may love both equally.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Published by Crown Publishers. 2011.

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If you frequently visit bookstores you have probably seen this New York Times bestseller, set to be turned into a movie in 2018. Ernest Cline’s debut novel puts a new spin on the popular genre of dystopia. Cline envisions a bleak world for 2044, a world in which teenage main character Wade Watts spends every waking moment of his life in a virtual reality known as the OASIS. He even goes to school in the OASIS, while his real body sits in a trailer, sedentary and alone. Wade, like most of the country, is in dire straits economically and dedicates all of his time to competing in the OASIS, for a massive fortune. The creator of the OASIS left behind a puzzle within the game. Only a single person can unlock this puzzle and win the prize. Completing the puzzle requires gaming skills as well as extensive 1980s trivia knowledge.

Teens and adults who enjoy puzzles, action scenes, light romance, and tons of 80s references will have a great time reading this. Those who tire of action, on the other hand, may find the book repetitive. Either way, Ernest gives his readers plenty of ethical concerns to ponder. The author does a fantastic job of appealing to gamers while encouraging them to go outside, connect with others, and have real sensory experiences. He does this without patronizing or insulting internet enthusiasts who are, after all, the heroes of this story. With the main characters spending most of their time as avatars who look nothing like their real bodies, the book carries strong messages about the unfortunate impact that outward signifiers such as race, gender expression, and body type have on the way we treat one another. Unfortunately, this message is somewhat undermined by Cline’s stereotyped depiction of two Japanese side-characters, Daito and Shoto. Parents and teens could read this book together to discuss and analyze these issues.

Erebos by Ursula Poznanski. Published by Loewe. 2010.

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While Ready Player One puts a twist on young adult dystopia, Erebos is more of a mystery novel, with some elements of science fiction as well. The alluring mystery of the plot is what drives the players in Erebos to keep on playing, and the readers to keep reading. The main character, Nick, discovers that a strange CD is going around his school, but no one will tell him what’s it contains. Students who receive the CD suddenly begin skipping class or falling asleep at school. When Nick finally gets his copy of Erebos, he too is quickly addicted to this exciting video game and the incredibly lifelike experience of playing it.

Beating the game requires players to complete some actions in real life, such as helping distribute the game among other students. Players are forbidden to discuss certain aspects of the game with each other, and if they break this rule, they are no longer allowed to play. Nick eventually must wrestle with the ethical implications of this situation, since none of the players understand the effects their real-life actions may be having. They are cogs in a machine, and can’t see the big picture. But how does the video game “know” when the rules have been broken? Some players are too wrapped up in the fun of playing to ask themselves this important question.

Erebos is a creepy, enticing thriller. It is written at a lower reading level than Ready Player One, and therefore may appeal more strongly to reluctant or struggling readers. Adults and advanced teen readers may discover that some elements of the writing have been lost in translation with Erebos, which was originally written in German. But the plot is still clear and entertaining.

Which book is better, Ready Player One or Erebos? You’ll have to read both to decide!

Emily Butler
Emily has a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Simmons College. She currently works as a Research Librarian at Deerfield Academy, an independent boarding and day school. She has a strong passion for both academic and creative writing, which she enjoys sharing with students. You can find more of her book reviews in School Library Journal.

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