Gamescape: Overworld by Emma Trevayne
Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)
Set on a just-barely-future Earth, where the problems have progressed further in the direction they're already headed (the air is a lot more polluted, the ozone layer mostly gone so the sun is more dangerous, etc), a company created a VR game. It's an escape from all the problems that people have, so "everyone" plays it, from teens to adults. (There's a minimum age, 12 I think it was, before you could play. But everyone over that spends much to most of their free time in the game.) It's the most popular thing on the planet, in part because you can earn "real life" rewards from it -- non-game item rewards.
And what prizes those are! The rewards are basically cyborg upgrades, everything from a mechanical finger to eyes that can function as cameras to engineered replacement organs. That last prize is the important one to our teenage main character, because he was born with a bad heart and is dying.
Luckily he's very good at the game, and on track to win the prize he needs...if he lives that long. Then he's tapped on the shoulder by the gamemakers to enter a special beta version of a better version of the game, one with even greater prizes, and thus an even higher chance of him living.
What made this book especially interesting were the "cutscenes" -- very short chapters about the gamemakers. Twice in the course of this book I questioned the author's decisions. The first time was during one of these cutscenes. She described the gamemakers as "basically psychopaths" and I rolled my eyes and got frowny at that. Where's the sense in that? Why would psychopaths make a game for the whole world to enjoy? But not only was that explained, the cutscenes/reasons behind the game were the best element of the whole story. They kept me guessing until the end, and I loved the twist about it!
The second time I second-guessed the author was near the end of the book. The main character and his two teenage friends successfully hacked into the computer system of the biggest company on the planet. The kids had never once hacked before. I'm SO glad I didn't stop reading at that point, because like the first example of me doubting the author, this was fully and completely explained in a 100% believable way.
It's so rare to find an author I can trust. I've read so many books where the characters do utterly unbelievable things, it's wonderful that everything in this book made sense and was realistic.
This was one of those rare times when I went offline earlier than usual at night, just so I'd have more reading time before I had to sleep.
I can't wait to find more books by her to read!