Tournament Trouble by Sylv Chiang (and illustrated by Connie Choi)
Published March 13th 2018 by Annick Press
All twelve-year-old Jaden wants to do is be the best at Cross Ups, the video game he and his friends can’t stop playing. He knows he could be―if only he didn’t have to hide his gaming from his mom, who’s convinced it will make him violent. After an epic match leads to an invitation to play in a top tournament, Jaden and his friends Devesh and Hugh hatch a plan to get him there. But Jaden’s strict parents and annoying siblings, not to mention a couple of bullies and his confusing feelings for his next-door neighbor Cali, keep getting in the way!
Tournament Trouble marks the first book in a planned series by Sylv Chiang, a captivating new voice in middle reader fiction. With sharp dialogue and relatable characters, it chronicles the ups and downs of middle school with a relevant, contemporary twist. Accompanied by Connie Choi’s lively illustrations, Tournament Trouble invites readers into Jaden’s world, and will leave them eagerly awaiting his next adventure.
Tournament Trouble does a great job of capturing the spirit of young readers and gamers while also imparting important messages and lessons without ever shoving them in your face. There is a kind of smooth simplicity to the story telling as well which is absolutely refreshing. We don’t always need a whole chapter explaining how and why Jaden and Cali are friends and have been since they were little or a play by-play recreation of Jaden’s uncles back story etc. All it takes is a few lines here and there and it helps the narration feel much lighter and less bulked down in details then I feel a lot of books can be, I especially loved that this is done and written in such a way that it doesn’t feel like it’s been dumbed down either.
All of the characters are likable and memorable and I particularly liked the fact that the group of friends was diverse without being stereotypical as well as coming from differing backgrounds making them easily relatable and realistic. The main character, Jaden has a good story arc and you can really feel his deliberation and hesitancy when it comes to doing things that he knows he shouldn’t. I also feel the reactions of those around him like his parents and friends also seemed like they would be accurate and are as diverse as you would get in a real situation, not everyone always agrees.
This book has a great approach to bullying, honesty, gaming and more, it has great pacing and was very hard to put down. I’d like to give a special (spoiler free) mention about the ending which I highly approved of and felt natural and organic, I’m usually very fussy about my endings and was pleased to be happy about this one.
I also cannot stress enough how fantastic the artwork by Connie Choi was! It really added a whole other level to the book and I would happily display some of the pieces in my home. The art is somehow both simple but very descriptive at the same time with a great distinctive style to it that feels appropriate for the story matter and I’d love to see more!
Cross Ups Book Two coming September 11th 2018 (Review coming next week!)