My preference is for stories that have some underlying lesson about life, whether it’s the value of friendship and self-sacrifice in Star Wars: A New Hope, or a reminder than man is not God in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. On the other hand, I dislike “issue” books – those pieces of literature whose primary thrust is to draw sympathy for and understanding of victims of some specific trauma or disease or disadvantage. I find that the learning those authors are striving for falls short because the stories and the characters tend to play back-up to the issue rather than the other way around. And yet, every once in a while, there is a novel or movie that gets the balance right – dealing with a heavy, not-so-esoteric issue, without it overcoming the enjoyment of the story and ability of the reader to get lost in the characters. John C. Brewer’s novel Multiplayer is one of them.
I first heard of Multiplayer long before it was published. I was with a group of writers talking about our novels when a charming, slightly shy man in the group described his book as an action-packed story about a group of teens playing multiplayer online video games and discovering that terrorist are using the game to train. I could see myself reading that for fun, but I didn’t expect there would be much more to it. Needless to say, I was surprised when I read it and discovered that, not only is the book is about racism, it is told from the perspective of the racist! If anyone had told me that, I never would have picked it up.
Having been on the receiving end of their barbs, I am not a fan of racists. I find them to be self-centered and lacking perspective and intellectual integrity. And in Hector West’s case all of those are true, but it works because he is a boy. Most young teens share those qualities, and John Brewer does an exemplary job of letting the reader understand how the attitudes developed and even have sympathy for the flawed protagonist, and then a more masterful job tearing down the walls Hector has built with them. But the issue doesn’t overpower the fast-paced story, nor does it play second fiddle. The two are entwined, giving reader a fun, entertaining story, and something to think about as well.
So, Hector West is a racist. And because of that fact, Multiplayer both entertained me and left me thinking about both our society and my own attitudes. If you’re looking for something fun AND worthwhile for your teens to read this summer – or even yourself if you’re a fan of young adult books – pick up a copy of Multiplayer. Well done!