Review: Pwned

PwnedPwned by Shannen Crane Camp
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In my first status update I was unsure of whether the book would catch on with me. I’d bought it as part of a bundle, and it wasn’t the book that sold me on that bundle. The concept was interesting, but I wasn’t sure. The main character was a girl, in fact a cheerleader. And she played a WoW-like game. A Venn Diagram in which I was one of the cirlces would have pretty much no overlap with Reagan, the main character. Well, other than that I also lived in Oregon, but what was when I was in middle school, not high school. I also wasn’t sure of whether the premise rings true to today’s high school kids. When I left HS nearly 15 years ago, gaming still wasn’t as pop culture as it is today. As I said in the status update, with dude-bros playing Call of Duty, should Reagan actually feel paranoid for playing computer games? Is that the sole provenance of nerds? I think I would have found it slightly more believeable if it was more explicitly about the MMO. I could buy that most people in her high school gamed, but still made fun of her for MMO gaming which still seems to have a tinge of nerd to it. But, in the end, it’s a quibble (a quibble I’ve wasted a paragraph on); a MacGuffin.

There are a few things that I liked, that kept this a page turner, and that actually had me reading almost half of it instead of going to sleep for work like I should have. First of all, the overall trope/core story is the same as She’s All That or Ten Things I hate About You, but gender-reversed. (And more of the latter than the former as it’s not a She Cleans up Well, but a guy) I don’t know how common this gender-reversal is in fiction, but when I was growing up, it was nearly unheard of. And there were a lot of these; Cruel Intentions was another in which the girl is the patsy. So, while the beats were very similar, there were still a few unique twists hemming from the trickster being the girl. Second, the dynamic of the dual life with Reagan knowing the boy in real life and in her guild (with the boy being in the dark) added some extra dimension and reality to the “fall in love” part of this trope/core story that always seemed too Hollywood in the movies. Third, Tawny’s almost sociopathic bahavior (I know girls can be back-stabby, but holy crap) meant the plot was able to have lots of twists without seeming unrealistic. Fourth, it was nice to have both the protagonist and love interest be nerds instead of the usual trope.

I appreciated the book being written by a woman. Men can write women, but all too often it turns into the Man with lady parts trope where the character speaks and acts like a man and just happens to be in a woman’s body. It certainly added some air of authenticity to Reagan’s feelings and internal monologue. It was fun to see the mix of emotions going through her head and her PG giving in to her lust.

The things I noticed missing were pretty much any use of profanity at all, even when things came to a head. Not everyone I went to HS with used profanity on a regular basis, but most of them at least used it when in a fight. I also found it interesting that Tawny didn’t play the slut rumor card as my younger cousins and nieces say this is the ultimate destructor in female relationships.

I found myself wondering who would benefit best from this book. I was certainly able to enjoy it as a man in his thirties remembering what HS was and how it’s changed (and stayed the same) with technology. Speaking of which, it was interesting that, except for one scene, texting didn’t play any role in the plot. Nor really cell phones for that matter. I know kids always love older kids in their fiction. Saved by the Bell wasn’t for high school kids it was for older elementary and middle school students. I think the lessons within the book would make it an ideal read for a middle school girl. The book doesn’t hit you over the head with the “be yourself” trope, but it does show how miserable Reagan is before she does and she does have what seem like realistic worries about what’ll happen if she steps away from the popular girls. The final reveal (which I’ll get to later) was also a pretty good lesson. I hear that kids nowadays seem to be in individualistic mode and less affected by peer pressure than when I was in school, but I think it’d still be a great reminder to them. Also, I thought it was neat that Reagan knew that in College no one cares. I do know that in my high school the cliques were quite loose and everyone hung out with everyone. So perhaps it’s a trend that’s been perculating for a while? I know I hung out with the cheerleaders, the jocks, the stoners, the Jesus Freaks (which I was one of), the smart kids, and the ones just skating by.

(view spoiler)

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Author: Eric Mesa

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