Title: Playing Tyler
Author: T. L. Costa
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Released: 2nd July 2013
Rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have absolutely no idea where or how to start this review, since T. L. Costa seems to have robbed me of my ability to think, so I'm just going to jump right in and say this book was wonderful. It completely took me by surprise. I looked at this and I thought videogames, which is fine, since I read Ready Player One and loved it, even though it was completely - completely - out of my comfort zone. Playing Tyler is not so far out, but enough that I was hoping this would work for me. And of course I had expectations. What I did not expect, however, was for this to be as deep and emotional and explorative as it was.
Tyler has ADHD and consequently has difficulty focusing on things. His only real strength is playing videogames, but he knows that this isn't exactly going to get him very far in life. As well as that worry he's got to look after his older brother Brandon, who once again is in rehab for taking heroin. When his mother's at home he's looking after her, too, since the death of Tyler's dad hit her hard. Things look up when Rick, his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor and the only person he can count on, provides him with a game to beta test. It's a flight simulation, one that would actually be used in training pilots if it works out. If he scores high enough, Tyler gets to go to flight school and possibly have a career doing the one thing in life he most wants to: flying. Then he meets Ani, the game's designer, and it seems like maybe his life won't be a disaster after all. But that's before he discovers that there's much more to the game than he first thought, and before his brother goes missing. Now it's not a question of what he's going to do with his future. It's a question of whether he's going to live that long at all.
I may as well say now, the writing style here is probably going to be very hit or miss, I think because it's specifically meant to show us Tyler's thoughts as a person with ADHD. For some it works and for others I know it doesn't. For me, it was brilliant. It allowed me to truly appreciate Tyler's difficulty with keeping a single, focused train of thought, and with actually being able to verbalise those thoughts. But even aside from that, he was an extremely tough and likeable character, and one I felt a lot of sympathy for. His mother, at the very least, is the one who is meant to be looking out for him, yet instead it's the other way around; it takes her far too long to realise where she should be focusing her attention. And as for Brandon, well, he was as much of a disappointment, if not more, and it was only towards the end that he decided to step up and do something for his brother - although I'm still not sure that it wasn't just a cop-out for him. There is a lot of focus on character and relationships in this book, making it one that actually brought out a lot of emotion in me. The only issue I had in this area was Tyler's reaction to Ani when he first met her: I got that she was someone he admired for her position in the gaming world, that she was someone who understood him and who he could communicate with relatively easily; I just think that it could have been taken a bit slower. But otherwise theirs was a sweet relationship.
Of course there was the videogame aspect as well, and all the technical details that brought. Costa brought alive an intriguing plotline, which would no doubt actually be something possible in real life, a scary thought when you discover the truth of the game. I appreciated the layers there were to it, so that when I thought I understood what was happening, other elements were added, and it was these that also reinforced a character issue and vice versa, making it all the more relevant to Tyler and therefore the reader. The full import of what the realities of the simulation meant was conveyed clearly, as was the danger that Tyler and Ani are in when they discover the truth. The last section of the book really emphasised this; it was the ending that was the most action-packed and had me absolutely refusing to put it down until I reached that last sentence. There was a lot of urgency and the pace quickened to fulfil that, and it really meant that this book ended on a superb note.
Playing Tyler was so much more than I expected. With only minor flaws, this was an absorbing read that realised both the need for plot and character investment. Going into this I truly had no idea that it would be so emotional and with such serious issues. I can see how this isn't for everyone, but I feel T. L. Costa has added something worthwhile to the YA market, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more work from her.