In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

1/5 Stars

So, this is the second time this week I’ve been wrong in telling you what will be up tomorrow in my posts. Sorry! I stated yesterday that I’d be having a little chat about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, however, there’s been a slight change of plans. I thought it was that book’s turn to be featured on my blog, but then I realized I had almost skipped over reviewing this book. So, today I’ll be reviewing In Real Life instead of talking about creepy folk lore. (Which has been moved back to next week.)

Another quick thing before I start. I finally joined the world of Twitter. I have no idea what I’m doing, so come join the fun and watch me embarrass myself. Lord have mercy. Follow me @alien_ashlylynn


(That’s right Evie, I finally made myself a Twitter!)

Now that all that business is taken care of, time for the review this posit is actually about.

This is a graphic novel about Anda, a young girl who loves to play Coursegold Online. A rep for the game comes to her school in search of new gamers who would be willing to play the game for free and promote it to their friends. Anda, of course, signs right up for the opportunity and even gets her parents to let her use their credit card. Things are going great; Anda has made some new friends. Then, a real life friend as well as a friend in the game teaches her how to make money off the site. Things start to get even more controversial when she befriends a poor boy from China working as one of the creatures she is paid to kill. Anda and him become fast friends, and she instantly starts working to help make his life better.

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*click image to be redirected to book’s Goodreads page*

I was really excited to read this book, but this quick read left me sorely disappointed. I found many of the ideas in this book unrealistic, not to mention problematic, and the overall plot rather flat. Now, to take a moment to collect my complaints and figure out which one I want to start with.

I think I’ll talk about the premise of the plot of this book first. This book is based on a story that Doctorow wrote back in 2004. Yes, you read that right, 2004! I don’t know why Doctorow waited 10 years to fine tune, finish, and publish this book. Him waiting so long left every idea and thought brought up in this GN utterly outdated and un-relatable. The issues that Doctorow brings up are no longer relevant. Most people, especially young readers (I’m guessing?) won’t have any idea of the things that Doctorow is attempting to discuss.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty business now. This book had a few really wonderful things, but this text is incredibly problematic in many ways that outshine the good.

The one good thing: The feminists undertones and the focus on female gamers . (Yes, we do exist and it’s nice to be validated and acknowledged. I’ve been gaming since I was 3 years old (with an older brother, that was bound to happen).) I was so hoping this was going to be exclusively about female gamers – you know, a nice story about the struggles and the opportunity to relate to someone. Anda’s character was great in that aspect. I loved that part of the book. The validation was nice, and seeing the potential role model for young girls was fabulous.

However, a nice story about female gaming is not what I got and also where this story becomes so problematic. I was leery about the ideas in this book upon reading the introduction. It’s filled with Doctorow’s thoughts on social media and online gaming, most of them negative. I understand that social media can be bad when misused, but it doesn’t all have to be about political schemes and terrible influences. I found Doctorow’s introduction presumptuous and unflattering toward the author’s character. He made me feel like I was 5 and he was the all-knowing know-it-all that was going to teach me the error of my ways. 

And to think, that was just the introduction. So, we’re introduced to Anda, and she’s playing this game online, and she’s making friends, and everything is going wonderfully (even if the story is horrendously outdated). Then, she meets a young Chinese boy of 16 who is a Gold Farmer and forced to work in terrible conditions. The story then instantly changes direction to Anda having to find justice and help this boy. This is where the story takes on a disgusting White Savior Complex. Even though Anda isn’t white, she’s still a significantly privileged American trying to solve a problem far greater than her and all on her own on top of things.

Please don’t take this of me to mean that I am disrespecting Anda and her own personal struggles based on her race, family structure, and personality. I simply want to get across that the issues this book is trying to get across are being horribly misrepresented by the author.

So, Anda has taken it upon herself to be the sole savior of this boy and his fellow employees. The new problem that this presents is that Anda is dealing with her angst as she lies in her comfy bed not actually knowing what it’s like to be in her new friend’s position. We are shown Anda’s angst when this is not Anda’s problem or struggle. She mopes and talks about how cruel the world is. We are forced to be told this story from the “savior’s” perspective and are given no insight into the Chinese boy’s thoughts. All we are given is what he tells Anda when Doctorow awkwardly information dumps everything onto his readers.

So, after Anda takes it upon herself to be the savior of an entire country. She researches doctors that her friend can go to, but his job doesn’t provide health insurance. Anda does a bit more research and tells this boy he and his fellow workers have to go on strike and tell the company they must provide health insurance. This then leads to the boy getting fired. The biggest problem with these events is that Doctorow is projecting the health care process of the United States onto a country he has clearly done little research on. 

Things ensue, and Anda becomes even more angst-y. Not the boy who has lost his job. Anda is the one most upset and effected by this scenario. This is not right. If Doctorow wanted to tell a story about the effects of online gaming on China, he should have thoroughly researched and wrote his book on a person from China effected.

Given all this, the biggest problem I had with this book was that it wanted to be two stories at once. Doctorow wanted to tell a story about female gamers and he wanted to tell a story about the effects (most of which aren’t even relevant anymore in today’s society) on a poor boy living in China. This poorly executed conglomeration was far too short and in the wrong media for the story to be told correctly. 

The final thing that really irked me was that at the end, the poor Chinese boy found a much better job and is now making good money in good conditions all because Anda, a middle-school girl who had no idea what she was doing, changed the world of gaming single handedly. The idea that this book wraps up and everything is magically fixed does nothing for what Doctorow states he wanted to accomplish. THINGS DO NOT JUST MAGICALLY GET BETTER BECAUSE ONE BOY WAS SPARED A TERRIBLE JOB. But, according to Doctorow’s ending, things are perfect now because the white savior complex has worked to fix the situation. (Which is honestly the best example of this complex. He thinks because he helped one person that everything will now be different and changed for the better.)


I suppose my rant is over now. I would apologize for my long, critical review of this text, but there was just so much going on that I couldn’t get on board with. This book is presumptuous and harbors dangerous ideas that should not be acted upon. Yes there were a few good things going on, but most of it was incorrect and terribly executed. I DO NOT recommend this bookIt’s too problematic a book to even be considered a good read for the feminist undertones (which still happened to be borderline problematic, but I’ll refrain myself from delving into why).

Also, it’s super unlikely that a rep for this online game would come all the way from Australia just to offer this game to young girls for free. Um, what?

(The artwork was pretty, at least…)

Sorry to end on such a negative note this week. I hope you all have a fantastic weekend filled with fun and adventure, AKA a good book! I’ll see you all on Sunday again when I’m back.

Other Links to reach me at: Instagrambooklrnon-book Tumblr.,Goodreads, Twitter.
Follow me on Snapchat: Smashleyyy92.

Happy Reading!


3 thoughts on “In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

    1. Yes! I’m excited about it, but have to figure it out yet, haha. I hope I can get the hang of it and not ignore it. Social media is so hard to keep up on!


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