book reviews, spoiler free

Anyones Game – Cross Ups 2

40512258Anyones Game by Sylv Chiang (and illustrated by Connie Choi)

Rating: XXXXX

Expected publication: September 11th 2018 by Annick Press

What’s up with Cali? Why does she keep changing her gamer tag?

It’s summertime, and even though his good friend Cali moved to another city, Jaden can connect with her online almost every day to play their favorite game, Cross Ups. His mom has loosened her rules on how often he can play, and he has an amazing new controller that will make him even better at tournaments. But then he gets roped into a dorky summer camp with his buddy Hugh, and Cali starts acting really weird . . . So when a last-minute tournament spot opens up in Cali’s city, Jaden jumps at the chance to go.

But things go badly from the start. Jaden loses his controller on the train, and his reunion with Cali is awkward. She’s unhappy, and Jaden can’t figure out why, especially when she’s getting better and better at Cross Ups—and may even win the tournament.

“from Tournament Trouble and Anyone’s Game © 2018 Sylv Chiang (text) © 2018 Connie Choi, published by Annick Press Ltd. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.”

I was so excited when Annick press sent me an advanced readers copy of Anyones Game in exchange for an honest review. I loved Tournament Trouble and I feel like some of the issues focused on in this book are very relevant right now in the gaming community and many others, some of which have affected me personally. That and I couldn’t wait to see what Jaden and his friends did next.

Sylv Chiang returns with her brilliant pacing, relatable characters and sometimes conflicted and confused narrator Jaden who feels like he could just jump out of the page, alongside talented artist Connie Choi who’s artwork once again really helps to illustrate events, this time things are a little more serious but Connie and her enjoyably distinctive art style are a feast for the eyes as ever while also really catching the emotions in those moments as well. I wouldn’t have thought the first book could be improved upon but I have never been more pleased to be proven wrong.

“from Tournament Trouble and Anyone’s Game © 2018 Sylv Chiang (text) © 2018 Connie Choi, published by Annick Press Ltd. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.”

Characters have already been established in the first book but we get nice little short reminders throughout about who everyone is and what events have previously transpired which I think is great in any sequel but especially so in books for younger children. When I was younger a year felt a lifetime away and I could barely remember what happened the month before, let alone a year before with any great detail, (I’m not much better now). These little refresher sentences also makes Anyones Game a good jumping on point for new readers and even easier to pick up and read straight away.

In Tournament Trouble we see how Jaden does at his first tournament and the kind of things he experiences as a gamer, in Anyones Game we see that Cali, as a girl has quite a different experience from him because of her gender. I won’t go into too much detail because being a female gamer myself I could probably write an essay on it but this book will hopefully make young boys think about the way they and others treat their female friends and classmates etc. I think it’s possibly a much harder book for young girls to read because of the way Jaden, his friends and others treat Cali, they begin to ask themselves important questions about their actions later on but even as an (almost) thirty year old woman I was pretty angry about some of the things they said and inferred. As an older woman who has read a lot of books now I understand that these moments like Jaden being upset about his friends knowing he was beaten by a girl or writing off creepy, hurtful messages from people online as just your average “trash talk” are meant to be examples we can learn from but I would worry they could be a little hurtful towards someone much younger. That being said it is refreshing to find older characters in this who point out where Jaden and others are being hurtful and help them to learn to be better people and better friends, I believe this book could help young boys to recognise hurtful behaviour in themselves and those around them and combat it. For young girls I feel that it shows they’re not alone when these bad things happen to them and that they shouldn’t just have to write these behaviours off as nothing. This is something I feel very strongly about and the main reason I think this book spoke to me. I would however have liked to have seen some of the story more from Cali’s point of view, maybe in book three?

“from Tournament Trouble and Anyone’s Game © 2018 Sylv Chiang (text) © 2018 Connie Choi, published by Annick Press Ltd. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.”

Despite some of the more serious lessons to be gleaned from Anyones Game it still carries the same light and fun energy the first book did but with just a little more conflict and food for thought but written in such a way that it doesn’t drag the overall story down or make it too heavy. A great sequel and I can’t wait for the next book!

book reviews, spoiler free

Tournament Trouble – Cross Ups 1

36613399Tournament Trouble by Sylv Chiang (and illustrated by Connie Choi)

Rating: XXXX

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.

“from Tournament Trouble and Anyone’s Game © 2018 Sylv Chiang (text) © 2018 Connie Choi, published by Annick Press Ltd. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.”

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.

“from Tournament Trouble and Anyone’s Game © 2018 Sylv Chiang (text) © 2018 Connie Choi, published by Annick Press Ltd. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.”

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!)