Author: Steve Brezenoff
Synopsis: Lesh and Svetlana, two teens from St. Paul, Minnesota, are adrift in a sea of social coterie, desperate for something to change. When they crash into one another in a drunken bicycle accident at two am, they don’t yet know how close they are to finding it. For now, Svetlana is simply looking for a fifth member to legitimize the Central High School Gaming Club, and Lesh is looking to escape his being grounded for said drunkenness by entering, reluctantly, the world of online role playing games.
Lesh’s gaming life takes an interesting turn as, unable to figure out how to speak to Svetlana, he “becomes” her in-game. When real life and in-game life inevitably become entwined, Lesh and Svetlana both start to realize that the lines they draw to keep their lives in order are not so easy to maintain. Especially when you no longer understand why you drew them in the first place.
Huge thank you to Steve Brezenoff for this advance reader’s copy of his very awesome book.
When I read the premise of Guy in Real Life, I was convinced it was a book written just for me. I’m marrying a gamer, I am a gamer myself, so clearly a nerdy gamer romance sounded perfect. What I wasn’t expecting was the amount of laying within this novel — gaming was only one half of what this story entailed, as Brezenoff gives us a story about two misfits, one completely unsure of himself and another who knows herself wholeheartedly.
First off, this novel is written in four multiple perspectives, though two belong to Lesh’s gaming characters, and one is more for entertainment purposes than anything else. The perspectives are very easy to identify, cleverly developed, and it creates a wonderfully woven narrative that connects throughout with ease. While some people might not be interested in reading someone’s D&D campaign or someone’s MMO character, these aspects are so important to the narrative as they give you a stronger sense of who Lesh and Svetlana truly are.
And that’s essentially what I loved about this story. It’s a novel about finding your identity and looking at the roles in which we play in our daily lives. Sometimes these roles make us hate parts of ourselves, while sometimes these roles strengthen out beliefs in being the best person we can be. What I love is that both characters have some doubts about themselves, but each attempts to harness qualities that they want the other to see on the outside.
That’s what I loved about Lesh and Svetlana’s romance: it became more about the qualities on the inside, and they got to know each other in more ways than one. Gaming was an easy connection, but gaming gave them more to explore about each other. The “Guy in Real Life” aspect is also explored so well because it is a topic that often comes up in roleplaying communities, but I love that Lesh has a lot of unsure aspects about himself. He wants to grow, learn who he is, and he’s a surprisingly sweet character as the story unfolds. I mean, as a gamer I love playing male characters because it’s not the gender I am, and much like Lesh, there is this desire to explore the other gender in such a way where you feel like you could get a sense of who someone is.
I also loved the secondary cast, particularly Reggie and Roan. They are the exact types of people you’d have in a gaming group, but they are such amazing friends and I think Svetlana as a character is a lot more fortunate in the friendships she’s forged compared to Lesh. Her circle of friends (for the most part) is very strong, they take care of each other, whereas a lot of Lesh’s story is also trying to find people who he can connect with on a level that makes him feel comfortable.
This novel is beautifully written with such an amazing message behind it. It shows gaming in a positive light (which I appreciate) and the characters are so memorable and strong, though not entirely likable (which I think it’s part of the point). This is a book that i find myself hugging against my chest because it does so much right but asks very little of its reader’s other than an open-minded. While the gaming elements will definitely being hit-or-miss for some readers, I feel like this novel is more than playing games and forging friendships — it’s about the roles we play in our lives, be them real or virtual.
I urge those out there who don’t have this on their TBR to give it a shot, because the amount of surprises within the narrative are plentiful, and there’s so many questions worth asking upon its completion. I cannot wait to reread this novel, because I feel like one read isn’t enough to absorb everything that the novel is attempting to accomplish. Guy in Real Life is a sweetly awkward tale of first loves and new beginnings.