Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is described as a sort of quirky genre-busting novel, which are among my favorite to read — when they work.
I’m not sure how genre-busting it is, but this book did work for me. Immediately, this novel felt like the popular dystopian genre that is so prevalent in YA literature right now, one that many adults are appropriating for their own as well. In addition to that, though it’s set in 2045, 80’s culture has made a comeback, so there are lots of references to all-things 80’s such as John Hughes movies, Family Ties, Matthew Broderick, spiked hair, and acid-washed jeans. Every time one of those references popped up, I smiled.
In addition to that kind of popular culture, 80’s computer and video games are critical to the plot. From one of the first computer game ever, Adventure, to the arcade game that everyone loved, Pac-Man, it’s all here.
When billionaire James Halliday, founder of the virtual reality OASIS died, he announced a contest (via pre-recorded video) stating that he was leaving his fortune to the first person to find the Easter Egg (a hidden item coded into games and software). “Gunters” such as 18-year-old Wade Watts, known by his avatar’s name Parzival, have stocked up on knowledge of all things Halliday, mostly 80’s culture and computers, hoping that it will help them figure out where the Easter Egg is hiding.
For a year, nothing happens. No one finds anything, but then the first gate is uncovered by Wade and another gunter, and the race is on. Parzival is one of them, and the other is Art3mis, a gunter who Parzival has a virtual crush on. Lines are blurred between online interactions and reality. Most teens like Wade live their entire lives inside OASIS. Games are played, and many people even opt to enroll in the OASIS-based school. Due to the immersive nature of it, you aren’t just looking at a screen. You are in the game/school, appearing as your avatar.
I’m floundering on the plot summary, so take this from the PR info I received:
Ready Player One opens in the year 2044. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes a grim, poverty-stricken reality by spending his waking hours jacked into a sprawling online utopia known as the OASIS, where you can be anything you want to be, and where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, he is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket: somewhere within this alternate reality lies hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.
This is an adult book, but I see it crossing over to YA readers (especially young men), because of its 18-year-old protagonist and the popular themes. In fact, with the title that nods to a video game and the bright colors, my own 13-year-old daughter picked it more than once wondering if it was for her. It’s definitely not a middle-school read, due to some mature themes and language, but honestly the upper end of YA frequently explores those kinds of themes, so it’s right in line with what high schoolers who like to read generally select for themselves.
Jennifer Donovan admits to having Pac-Man fever, wearing acid-washed jeans, and having a little crush on Alex P. Keaton. She blogs at Snapshot.