Review by Heather Valentine
In Real Life is a graphic novel adaptation of a short story by author Cory Doctorow, with Jen Wang handling both the adaptation and the art. Wang’s art is wonderful throughout – her character designs are adorable, and she contrasts the ordinariness of Anda’s everyday life with the lush Eastern-inspired jungles-and-temples look of fictional MMORPG Coarsegold Online, with both worlds brought to life in gorgeous, vibrant colours.
The bulk of the story is a sweet tale about a shy teenager who becomes fascinated with an online game, but is conflicted by the pull of her newfound friendships with Raymond, a gold-farmer, and Lucy, a decked-out munchkin who harasses and kills gold-farmers in-game for real-world money. We see the difference between Anda in real life and in game, and how the wonders of this online world allow her to befriend people she would never have otherwise gotten to know.
Unfortunately, however, the book’s ending veers away from the charming portrayal of friendship and wonder and towards the didactic, as Anda engages in online activism on behalf of her friends. While the message the book is trying to get across is worthwhile, it does so in a simplistic, heavy-handed manner at the expense of good storytelling and characterization. While the last few pages pull back to a very sweet, character-centred conclusion, it doesn’t make up for the comparative flatness of the Saturday-morning-special climax.
While Wang’s art will enchant readers of all ages, and shy girl gamers will connect with the character of Anda, older readers are likely to be disappointed by the book’s ending, particularly if they are already familiar with the political point of view the book is trying to put across.