Although I don’t read a whole lot of YA anymore, when I was approached to read this book by Allen & Unwin, I had to say yes. It’s about games? It’s from an Asian-Australian author? It ticked so many boxes and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin Australia for kindly providing me with a physical copy to review. I meant to publish this review on the publication date but life got a little away from me!
Funny and romantic, an upbeat YA novel about gaming, goals and getting even from a fresh new voice in contemporary fiction.
How did I let my sister talk me into going out when I have a game to fix and a jerkface to destroy?
Sam Khoo has one goal in life: create cool indie games. She’s willing to do anything to make her dream come true – even throw away a scholarship to university. All she needs is a super-rare ticket to a game design workshop and she can kickstart her career.
So when Jaysen Chua, otherwise known as Jerky McJerkface, sneakily grabs the last ticket for himself, Sam is left with no choice. It’s war. Knowing all too well how their Australian-Malaysian community works, she issues him an ultimatum: put the ticket on the line in a 1v1 competition of classic video games, or she’ll broadcast his duplicity to everyone. Thank you, Asian Gossip Network.
Meeting in neutral locations, away from the eyes and ears of nosy aunties and uncles, Sam and Jay connect despite themselves. It’s a puzzle that Sam’s not sure she wants to solve. But when her dream is under threat, will she discover that there is more than one way to win?
This book was honestly so charming. It centres on Sam Khoo, a first-generation Malaysian girl who has dreams of becoming a game developer and ends up in a battle for a ticket to a precious workshop. The battle consists of playing games against Jaysen Chua, the guy who got his hands on the last ticket at the same time and hopes to give this to his brother who loves games. At the same time, Sam is dealing with her best friend, Annika moving away to a different state when she has always been by her side and coding her own games with her.
Although I thought this would focus more on the rom-com aspect of this contemporary story, I love how much deeper it went in its exploration of games; from explaining the different types of games Sam and Jay played to the game Sam was creating herself for an upcoming indie game showcase. I also enjoyed seeing Sam’s relationship with her parents and her sister, as I thought it was a healthy but realistic representation of how many East Asian communities are in terms of culture, expectations and social experiences. Since Sam has won a scholarship to go to university, her parents are set for her to take it and study to get herself a job rather than take her dream of becoming a developer on her own, while also hoping that her sister follows a similar path instead of going out with friends.
Having her best friend move to Sydney, (while she stays in Brisbane) also added another layer to how much this showcase needed to be successful so that they could stay together if both of their games are picked up by indie publishers. Sam seemed so mature for her age, almost too mature for what we’d expect from someone just out of high school and sometimes her conversations with her parents didn’t feel super realistic but I enjoyed seeing those bits of Sam’s experience. The book felt more about her journey and her character development while she’s in this tournament with Jay rather than the possibility of a romance between Jay and herself being centre-stage.
For a rom-com, there wasn’t a whole of romance but certainly a bunch of cuteness. Sam and Jay had great chemistry as friends; from nicknames, only a few people would understand, to being supportive when the other is having a hard time and doing an escape room together. I have mixed feelings about the lack of romance in this book because these are high school students about to go to university who are responsible role models in their community, but they didn’t quite feel like two people who would end up becoming a couple. I didn’t get enough from Sam that made it clear that she saw him in that way and vice versa. This was probably my biggest qualm about it because they got along so well and the story had a great foundation for a rivals-to-lovers trope, but I couldn’t feel the spark from their interactions since the story focussed so much on Sam’s journey surrounding games and her family.
Overall, this was a pretty charming read with its funny moments and great representation all around. I loved the family interactions, seeing characters so passionate about their hobby and recognising some of the classic games mentioned as well as new concepts for games that I’d love to play one day!
Let me know if you’re looking to pick up this cute contemporary this year, and if you’ve read it – what did you think?
Until next time,