Guy In Real Life, by Steve Brezenoff

pixels?  Really?  As if.

If you know what an RPG or an MMORPG (aka MMO) are, you are probably geeky enough to read this book.  If you also know what a GIRL is, you are probably so geeky that you are cool, and may laugh aloud at any misinterpretations, gross exaggerations, or bang-on characterizations.

I think I fall somewhere in between these two camps.

If you like fairy tales, or stories about teens and kids that are smarter than all of the adults around them, you’ll like this book.  If you like reading – a little, but not too much – about fantasy worlds and the goings-on therein, you’ll like this book.  If you like first-person (or first-elf) narratives, you’ll like this book.

But if you like books to be less like a fairy tale and more like real life, if you find first-person to be distracting, and if it rankles you to reread the Clueless Grown Ups and Smart Kids theme several times over, you may find this book more than slightly annoying.

I think I fall somewhere in between these two camps, too.

Lesh Tungsten (fairy-tale name Number One) is a 16-year-old, hardcore-don’t-care, metalhead from the Wrong Side of the Tracks (of course).  Svetlana Allegheny (fairy-tale name Number Two) is a 17-year-old, super-artsy, bicycle-riding-neo-hippie dungeon master, who lives in a mansion where she listens to Björk and Berlioz.  Their lives collide (literally) in Chapters 1 (Lesh) and 2 (Svetlana), after which they gravitate with surprising grace towards each other.

Surprising grace, because even though they are teenagers with almost nothing in common except a physical run-in and an early, friendless, lunch period, they are sufficiently self-assured to (slowly) meander into a romance with a bare minimum of fuss.

Surprising grace, because even though each chapter is narrated by either Lesh or Svetlana, and even though Brezenoff writes some scenes that are meant, I think, to portray anxiety or anticipation re: each other, I never once felt like either Lesh or Svetlana were sitting, heart-in-mouth, waiting for the other person to call or text or say something, already – even in moments where any normal person would be biting their nails off.

In most teen novels (for instance, The Selection), romance is fraught with the anxious angsting you might expect from, well, romance.  I mean, even Clueless Grown Ups sit around anxiously angsting when waiting for That Other Person to establish contact, dammit!  So when I say that Lesh and Svetlana are self-assured, what I mean is that they are preternaturally self-assured.  It’s almost as if they are fictional characters created for the purpose of embodying a certain theme or symbolism within a story.  Which is, I think, not the point of this kind of fiction.  Or, maybe it is, and I’m just too Clueless to be able to come up with what Lesh and Svetlana represent (other than the obvious, see above).

So I have mixed feelings about the book.  It’s well written, it’s engaging, and by the time I got a few chapters in, I was interested to see who the characters were going to be.  But when I finished reading it, I was slightly dissatisfied, as if I had been told to expect dessert and got fruit salad.  Fruit. Salad.  Come on!

But I got over it I realized that the book truly is a fairy tale.

So yeah, Lesh and Svetlana are the brutal embodiment of social stereotypes (their parents, their friends, their clothes, and their musical tastes).  And sure, the “pressure” put on them by their frienemies looks more like the chummy teasing in Grease than the real blood-and-guts stuff of high school.  And okay, there was more romantic tension in The Young Victoria or Shakespeare in Love, or The Sound of Music, for that matter.  But it’s a fairy tale.  We’re never supposed to actually be scared.  We know that They Live Happily Ever After (or at least, happily for awhile).

And hey, I never usually got dessert as a kid, so fruit salad is definitely a trade up from nothing.

Reading Ages: Teens, teens, teens.  Definitely teens.  With a decent vocabulary.  Also, they have to not-despise geeks, or at least be willing to entertain geeky chapters in exchange for star-crossed lovers with a happy ending.

Rating: B.  Because, after all that, I still do like fairy tales.

Favourite Character:  Svetlana’s (preternaturally) smart and cute little sister.

Decent vocabulary used in the book: Floret, gnarly (and not in that 90s way), glower, exoskeleton, resurrected, loathing, rich (as in “a rich brown”, not “filthy rich”), miscreant, stimuli, valiant, behemoth, remnant, syncopated, utilitarian, immaculate, audibly…and I was only flipping pages.  Am I wrong to think that this collection of words is amazing?  I’m so glad people still use interesting words in kids books.

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