Rating: LOVED (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)
Before I get to the review: orangerful, you should stop reading this now. Know that I loved it and recommend that you read it, but I'd suggest that you not read my review -- I don't want to raise your expectations of the book and then have you maybe not enjoy it as much.
Everyone else still here? Good! Notice that I put the rating in all caps, something I've done only once before. This book made me wish I had a rating higher than 'loved'.
Guy in Real Life should not have worked for me. I can count on two fingers the number of times romance has worked for me in a YA book, and Guy in Real Life was all about a relationship. First person POV, let alone alternating first person POV between two (or more, technically) characters should have sent me running screaming. Fiction set in the real world very rarely works for me, too. Nothing about this book should have worked for me, yet I loved it to death.
The only reason I gave this book a chance at all was that the two main characters were into MMOs and tabletop RPGs. Even then, I worried the author would only make mention of those two things, but my worries were wrong: Gaming, both online and tabletop, were a third and fourth character in this relationship, and it was so so so wonderful.
Svetlana was the tabletop gamer, the GM for her highschool gaming club (with just barely enough members to qualify for club status at all). Lesh was a new MMO player (WoW -- though the author never named his MMO, anyone who played WoW even briefly would recognize it). The two had a chance encounter, and later met again, and through the book their friendship and then more developed. Their relationship was never rushed, and it felt so very realistic and perfectly imperfect.
There's so much the author did right; this is one of those times I feel like there's no way my review will do the book justice. His descriptions of the MMO/WoW were so perfect -- "magical" was the word I kept wanting to use when I was thinking about how well he described it. It might be cliche to say this, but I felt like I was there in the world he was describing, that I could feel the heat and the dust of the wilds outside of Orgrimmar, the beauty of the night elf starter forest area.
When I started the book, I was worried that the author wouldn't be able to describe gaming/role playing well -- that he wasn't a gamer himself. It quickly became so clear that he was. Not just through his descriptions, but through the often wonderful, sometimes painful relationships the characters had. Not just basic things like Lesh discovering and then taking advantage of the extra help a female player can get, but how sometimes against your will online relationships can cross over into real life.
What sealed my being certain the author really understood these things was when he described how Lesh felt after his RPing leaked out into real life, when [spoiler]the adult man tracked down the player (who he thought was a high school girl) in RL, sending gifts and watching/interacting without permission. /end spoiler . Even when around people who had no way of knowing about his RP, he felt like it could somehow be read on his face. "I know that it's out there now, out of my head and my body and in the world." (As much as I love about the book, I think it's that [above spoiler] that sticks with me the most because it's so realistically scary and could have gone so very very bad.)
On top of loving how he wrote the characters and his general gaming knowledge, I loved the author's writing so much. For example, how he merged the "real" world of WoW and the way players act in it:
[She] imagines an undead rogue is riding on wolf-back beside them right now, watching them, laughing to himself, juggling his enchanted daggers, ready to kill them both in one fell swoop. He'll have the hunter bloody and dead in an instant, and his cat with him, and then he'll kneel on Svvetlana's chest, with his dirty blade against her long, white throat, and he'll say, "Lol. Fag."
The author did a trick I love: Playing with sentence lengths to add a beathlessness to some scenes. Also, such wonderful descriptions. This one is of the two sitting on a couch in a dark basement of the Garnet's house:
I find the throw on the arm beside me--it's musty and old and smells like a Garnet and my youth and generally like brown and red. Maybe in the dark, colors and smells are kind of the same thing.
I highlighted so many sections I loved, so many little wordings and long quotes. It makes me so happy when I find an author I can do that with!
I hope I haven't missed writing about any part of the book I loved. I loved the whole thing so much! Usually when I'm reading, I watch the percent left and usually I look forward to it counting down so I can move on to the next book, but with Guy in Real Life it was the opposite -- I kept dreading as the number got lower and lower, I didn't want it to end.
(Edit: Oops, I did forget to mention one more thing I loved. In writing there's a rule, Chekhov's gun. "Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." This author did not follow that, and it made for a more realistic story. A character suggested a solution to Lesh's "guy in real life" problem, using a girl to speak for him on voicechat a couple times, and while that was an interesting possible solution, the character never got around to trying it. I love that that thread was out there but never followed up on! )
And speaking of the ending... [Spoiler]Like the rest of the book, it was so good! I had been dreading the story ending, I didn't want to say goodbye to the characters, but it was open-ended enough that I feel like I haven't. A 'happily ever after' ending would have closed the door, that would have been the end of that, but this way I can smile and wonder what happens to them in the future -- I feel like I haven't lost the two of them out of my head.
Highly, highly recommended. This is not just the best book I've read this year, but one of the best books I've read in all the years I've been reviewing them.
Next up: Brooklyn, Burning by the same author.