Guy in Real Life: Review

May 22, 2014 2014, 4 star books, contemporary, Kim, steve brezenoff 73 ★★★★

Guy in Real Life: ReviewGuy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff
Published by Balzer & Bray on May 27, 2014
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
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From the acclaimed author of Brooklyn, Burning comes Guy in Real Life, an achingly real and profoundly moving love story in the vein of Rainbow Rowell and John Green, about two Minnesota teens whose lives become intertwined through school, role-playing games, and a chance two-a.m. bike accident.

It is Labor Day weekend in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and boy and girl collide on a dark street at two thirty in the morning: Lesh, who wears black, listens to metal, and plays MMOs; Svetlana, who embroiders her skirts, listens to Björk and Berlioz, and dungeon masters her own RPG. They should pick themselves up, continue on their way, and never talk to each other again.

But they don't.

This is a story of two people who do not belong in each other's lives, who find each other at a time when they desperately need someone who doesn't belong in their lives. A story of those moments when we act like people we aren't in order to figure out who we are. A story of the roles we all play-at school, at home, with our friends, and without our friends-and the one person who might show us what lies underneath it all.

Wow. So I went into this book thinking I was going to read this charming little story about two gamer kids overcoming their differences and falling in love. And this is that book. Sort of. But it’s mostly so much more. It’s a complex, yet sweet and often humorous, examination of identities and gender roles. This is one of the most unique and affecting coming of age stories I’ve ever read.

We have Lesh, a refreshingly normal, nondescript teenage boy. Lesh likes metal and his best friend Greg and…that’s about it. Then there’s Lana who is a force so wholly herself. Lana has a rich inner world which she cultivates through drawing, embroidery and fulfilling her duties as Dungeon Master. She has something else that Lesh so sadly lacks: a supportive circle of friends. I really appreciated the duality of Lana’s assured sense of self against Lesh’s insecurity and vulnerability.

I really enjoyed the dual POV here. The character voices are distinct and the characters themselves are so relatable and easily understood. I had a good grasp on both Lana and Lesh fairly early on and it made reading from their dual perspectives so much fun. You understand what’s really going on in the mind of the other while in one’s head and it’s adorable and amusing to see them bumble through their interactions and misunderstand each other in that singularly adolescent way. This is one charmingly awkward romance with some seriously adorable swoon moments. Lesh can be just the sweetest. Trust me.

We also spend some significant time with Svettlana (not to be confused with the real world Svetlana, one t), Lesh’s female MMO avatar. I understand how these sorts of breaks from the main story can be frustrating, but in this case the gaming scenes are integral to both plot and character development. They are the vehicle through which we explore the ideas inside the book’s core. This is mostly a story about identity and examining and uncovering the roles we play every day, whether online or in our “real life” interactions.

This book raises so many poignant questions. Gaming culture is notorious for its hostility to women and its homophobic attitudes. Why does Lesh choose to play a female character? What does he learn through this experience both about being a woman and about himself in that context? Why do we assume certain roles? What effect do the roles placed upon us by others have? What is gender even anyway?  If you, like me, are fascinated by these questions then you will love this book.

Do note, there is occasional use of the slur “faggot” by Lesh’s friend and members of his gaming guild. While certainly difficult to come across, it is there for a reason: View Spoiler »It is part of the environment of realistic gaming culture that the author has crafted. It is part of the larger exploration of gaming culture and the unfortunate prevalence of sexism and homophobia, the anonymity of online communities, and how they intersect. It is safe to say that Lesh learns much not only about himself but gets a glimpse into the realities of what women and minorities can face both online and irl.

And I promise, as much as Lesh’s character grows and learns throughout this book, Lana gets her fair share too. She just didn’t have as far to go as our Mr. Tungsten having already been consistently awesome. I do love some good solid character development, don’t you? To say any more would spoil things, though.

The ending is a bit abrupt but not in a terrible way. I just wanted the story to keep going. That’s a good thing! I ended the book with a contented grin on my face and little spark in my heart. And so you see? My little SFF loving heart can too like realistic fiction! I wish there were more books like this one, especially in YA. Funny, sweet, serious, and complex books that challenge the status quo and get readers thinking about important concepts.

An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.


kim teal






73 Responses to “Guy in Real Life: Review”

  1. Susan T.

    From the cover and the blurb I assumed this was a light, fluffy read. I had no idea it was so deep!

  2. bethany

    had not heard of the author (or his previous book) but am awaiting this one via my library queue… any book that dares to call itself John Green + Rainbow Rowell has a bit of a high calling to meet!

    (though I will say the cover caught my eye without needing to read much more…)

    • Kim

      Heh, well marketing folk certainly like to slap the names of beloved and best selling authors on books in order to sell them. I think this book is a lot different from any of John Green’s or Rainbow Rowell’s works. I mean, yes there is a quirky adolescent couple with a quirky romance here but that’s about it for comparisons. I thought this book addressed questions in a much more realistic and honest way. I seem to be the minority opinion here, though. There’s only one way to see for yourself!
      Kim recently posted…The Fault in Our Stars: film discussion

  3. Thomas

    I find this review interesting because of the not-so-positive comments I’ve read about this book elsewhere. However, I’m glad that this story, while seemingly simple on the surface, delves deeper into gender roles and human identity and other themes you might not expect in a book that pertains to gaming. Glad you had such a great experience with it!
    Thomas recently posted…Gossip: Good for the Soul, Believe It or Not

    • Kim

      Oh man. I’m hearing over and over again that this one isn’t getting great reviews. Am I the white sheep?! Well, I will be so and gladly. I loved this book. I thought it was so honest and fearless. And I also thought the author did a great job getting the teenage girl POV just right. I get nervous when I see a male author going for that but it was perfect here. Even to the extent of showcasing microaggressions girls and women come across in daily life.
      Kim recently posted…The Fault in Our Stars: film discussion

  4. Moira

    It’s great to see a positive review of this book! I’ve been contemplating reading it, but have seen quite a few reviews that were negative and a few cases where the reviewer didn’t finish the book. Thank you for the review.

  5. Kaniesha

    Thank you for the great review! I’ve seen reviews of this one where people are instantly put off by “the f word”, but as a gamer, and a casual gamer of MMOs, it’s hard to not see it. I could get into my feelings every time I do but I think to keep my peace of mind I just have to get used to it, you know? I really dig dual POVs too and I’m definitely going to read this one.
    Kaniesha recently posted…Kaniesha Reviews: Divided ARC by Elsie Chapman (spoiler warning)

    • Kim

      Oh it’s my pleasure to provide the review, Kaniesha! And it really is tough. I’m happy that the presence of this hateful word makes readers immediately recoil. It should; it’s awful. But it makes me sad that it’s coming through the wrong way and putting readers off the book. I thought it was a bold exploration of the brutality and toxicity of gaming culture. To keep my peace of mind I never play multi-player games. The toxicity is too much for me. I literally can’t handle it so I just don’t. And my gaming experiences are so peaceful! Well, you know, besides running around shooting and stabbing people. Whoops! I hope you love this one when you get to it! It’s much deeper than it seems on the surface.
      Kim recently posted…The Fault in Our Stars: film discussion

      • Kaniesha

        You make a good point! I really wish people would get over the word and stop using it, and as a person who used it when I was younger but stopped such a small time after that, it’s really weird to see older gamers (at least in their 20s) using it. I just.. so many people need to grow up and educate themselves.

        I actually rarely play MMOs! The only time I do is when I’m playing one specific game with a friend, and then I usually turn off the global mics and chats so I don’t have to see/hear it.
        Kaniesha recently posted…Kaniesha’s Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far This Year

  6. Sashana

    Your review just goes to show, “never judge a book by it’s cover.” I should add that I do like the cover but I would have never guessed by looking at it that it has so many important themes. I’m very intrigued!

    • Kim

      It makes me SO happy to hear that, Sashana. This one was definitely a surprise for me too. I just want everyone to pick it up and give it a shot. This is a blend of “issue book” and light contemporary which made it the perfect issue book for me. I usually can’t handle them but I thought this was so perfectly balanced and well done.
      Kim recently posted…Classic MG Discussion: A Wrinkle in Time

    • Kim

      The voices are *so* distinct and so delightful. I know it can be really annoying when there’s dual or multi-POV and you can barely tell the difference between characters, but this is definitely not that! This book has humor, heart, depth…there’s just so much to love, really. Please read it. :)

  7. Sam @ Realm of Fiction

    This sounds completely fantastic, and I love your review for this, Kim! I don’t know very much about gaming and gaming culture, but I like that this book looks at identity and gender and the way these things play a part in this environment. I am all for thoughtful and realistic fiction, so I will definitely have to give this a try. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    Sam @ Realm of Fiction recently posted…Review: (Don’t You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn

    • Kim

      Thanks so much, Sam! <3 You really don't have to be familiar with gaming or gaming culture at all. Lesh himself is new to gaming so you get to explore it through his newbie perspective as well. I'd say it's just an added bonus for you if you do happen to already be a gaming fan. This book was, surprisingly, so much more than I thought it would be just from the description. It really is such a thoughtful and meaningful book. I just want everyone to read it ha. I will definitely be on the lookout for your thoughts on this one! Please do read it!

  8. Larissa

    I’ve seen this book floating around and I must say, I adore the cover. It’s so simplistic yet cute c: Anyway, previous to reading your review I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d give this one a go.

    I’ve very much intrigued by the character of Lesh. It appears that he goes through some crazy character development. I also am liking the fact that gender roles are addressed, in gamine especially it’s so obviously a problem. I’m not a huge gamer myself, but my friend is and she’s told me some awful things that men have said to her. Basically they consider her less of a gamer which is extremely unfair and totally sexist. This book really does seem to touch on other big issues: toxic friendships,homophobia and the gaming culture as a whole.

    I feel like I’ll definitely be picking up this one. I’m curious to see how the author deals with these big issues c:

    Great review! (:

    • Kim

      Hee isn’t the cover so cute? I’m rather fond of it myself. :)

      I was so impressed with this book. You’re right, Lesh goes through some major developmental changes but it’s done so subtly and gradually. It’s such a natural progression. The book just flows in such a realistic way while managing to be also be refreshingly optimistic. When surrounded by a toxic environment there are always ways to grow and break free-that’s one of the core messages of the book.

      Gaming can be just *awful* for women. Truly awful. Have you ever heard of Anita Sarkeesian? Her TedxWomen talk is really great and is a perfect demonstration of the specific sort of hate and vitriol the toxic gaming culture can produce. It’s difficult to hear her talk about her experiences but it’s so important. And it’s not only that women gamers themselves are harassed but also that female characters in games are more often than not heavily objectified characters of little to no substance. It’s so disheartening. Which makes it great that a book like this one can come along and help challenge readers to think outside of the status quo.

      I’m so glad you’ll be reading this! I hope you love it as much as I did!

  9. Rashika

    I actually hadn’t heard of this book until right now but I am sooo curious to read it now! I am not much of a gamer but I get the feeling that this won’t be that big of an issue in terms of enjoying the book (because I am already so curious to read it!)

    I am glad to see you enjoyed this one Kim!!

    Lovely review! :)
    Rashika recently posted…Review: The Warrior by Victoria Scott

    • Kim

      Yayyyyy! Read it! It’s lovely! Don’t worry about not being a gamer. The story and the writing are so absorbing it really won’t lessen your enjoyment at all, I promise. I’m so excited for you to discover this one!

  10. A Canadian Girl

    I don’t know much about online gaming and would never have picked this one up based on its cover or synopsis. Your review though is pretty convincing, Kim, but I was sold when you said, “Funny, sweet, serious, and complex book that challenge[s] the status quo and get[s] readers thinking about important concepts.”
    A Canadian Girl recently posted…Review: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama

    • Kim

      These sort of comments are my favorite. I *love* hearing that I’ve convinced you to read a book that you otherwise wouldn’t’ve considered. Please do let me know what you end up thinking about it if you remember to! (no pressure, though, obv) I thought it was a such a special read. I hope you do too.

  11. Pili

    I wasn’t entirely sure about this before, but Kim, your review makes me want to read it loads NOW!
    I’ve never been much into online gaming but I have friends that are super into it and know quite a bit because of that. So I think this one really would be a great one for me to read.
    Thanks for a fantastic review!
    Pili recently posted…Saturday Pages: The Lovely And The Lost by Page Morgan!!

    • Kim

      Hee yay! You know how I love to hear that my plans to force my reading tastes on others is working! :p The gaming aspect is just an interesting avenue used in this book, a really net lens through which to examine some important issues. It’s really nice if you happen to be a gamer but I don’t think it will detract from the enjoyment at all if you’re not. I’m excited for you to read this one!

  12. Jaz

    I’d heard amazing things about this before but after reading this review I’m determined to get this book.
    As a heavy gamer myself I know a lot of guys who use female avatars and for many reasons. The portrayal of females in the gaming world, the stereotypes etc. make guys more often than not, prone to play female characters. I’m really intrigued to see if this book gets it right.
    Thanks for the awesome review.
    Jaz recently posted…Review: The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes

      • Jaz

        I just read that article and it’s very accurate. But a lot of the games I play, guys actually pretend to be girls so they’re treated nicer – by both genders alike. There seems to be some agreement that girls get treated better in games. We get more loot, guys help us or something. It’s so weird. But it’s obvious when guys are using female avatars to me because of the way they talk. I agree that guys don’t seem to jump into boss battles as much as girls – they do stay further back.

  13. Carina Olsen

    Aw, amazing review sweetie :D I’m so glad you enjoyed this book. It sounds pretty awesome. And I adore that cover, hih. Ack. I’m glad you liked the ending as well; despite it being a bit abrupt :D That is always a plus. Thank you so much for sharing your honest thoughts. <3 I will check this book out a little bit more, I think.
    Carina Olsen recently posted…The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

    • Kim

      Thanks, Carina! Please do give this one a shot. The ending is not so bad. I was just left wanting more, you know? Some books truly do end abruptly without any real resolution and it’s just terrible. This is not that! Let me know what you think if you do end up reading it!

  14. Becca

    I’m always really excited whenever I read something about an interesting book and THEN discover it’s available on Audible. I might have to add this to my list!

    • Kim

      Oh PLEASE do! Its so funny and charming and sweet but also seriously examines some really important issues. It’s one of the better YA contemps I’ve read.

  15. Traci @ The Reading Geek

    Great review! I was unsure about picking up this book because I just didn’t know much about it, but your review has now absolutely changed my mind. I’m so excited to hear that topics like gender, identity, and online bullying are being discussed in this book. These aren’t topics I see brought up enough in YA books.
    Traci @ The Reading Geek recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #154: Even in Paradise

    • Kim

      YAYYYYY! I am thrilled to hear that my review has changed your mind! It is absolutely wonderful that such serious topics are brought up here and dealt with such an even hand. And it manages to be sweet, and cute, and funny, as well. Such a lovely read.

  16. Shannelle C.

    I’ve never been a gamer, but I just totally would jump at a chance to read a gaming book. It’s so fun and quirky, even though my only experiences with gaming is apps. Although there was one RPG app that I had, and it was so much effort to level the character up. I think that’s one thing I can understand. But PC games, I never tried them. I don’t know how I can relate to the hard core gamers, but I’m just really enthusiastic to read a gaming book.

    the characters sound great. I love seeing feminism being dealt with books, and I think it’s inescapable with gaming. The guys get really buff characters with armor, and then the girl are super slim with big chests and a bikini. *rolls eyes* So I think it’s great that it’s dealt with in the book. And I like the sound of Lana! I’m interested, because it sounds a little like me.
    Shannelle C. recently posted…The Perkins Project: The Book that Started it All

    • Kim

      I’ve been a console and PC gamer since I was a very young one but I think this book is enjoyable even if you’re not a gamer. What I’ve always enjoyed most about gaming is being thoroughly enveloped in the story of the game, being an integral part of the action. And so the gaming portions of this book are just like that. Gaming (more specifically with adventure games and RPGs which are the ones I play mostly) is very similar to reading in that way. And so here it gets sort of meta. What I’m taking a long time to say is don’t worry you’ll enjoy it. :)

      It was so lovely and refreshing to see a YA contemp take on some heavy feminist issues but it’s done with such an even hand and is never overbearing in the messaging. It’s much more a “food for thought” read. It raises all the right, interesting questions without spoon feeding the author’s opinions or answers. *sigh* The misogyny in gaming culture is such a problem. I feel like I could write a 10,000 word essay on the subject. I don’t even have my Xbox connected to the internet because I don’t want the “interactive” experience. I’d rather not have random douchebros throwing gendered insults at me, thanks. My solitary gaming experience is much more solitary, yet peaceful. It’s sad that it comes to that, you know? So it’s really wonderful to see a YA book take a look at and examine this issue.

      And the characters are as great as they sound! I identified a good bit with both Lesh and Lana, but Lana specifically reminded me of my high school self. She’s really great. You must read and then you’ll see! :)

    • Kim

      It really is the loveliest! Everything you mention makes this such a special book. I can’t wait for you to discover it!

  17. Melliane

    I didn’t know this book I confess but it’s really intriguing. The dual POVs of 2 really different characters must be so interesting and it’s not an evironment we can read about every days. I love the questions in here, and I’m curious to see how the characters dealt with all that. Thanks for the review!
    Melliane recently posted…Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

    • Kim

      Oh I really hope you give this one a chance! I find dual POV to be just fine, I don’t regularly have strong feelings about it. But it’s use here was so well done and it was so enjoyable to see how each character thought of the other and have inside information on their misunderstandings. It was so awkwardly adorable. This is such a thoughtful read but it’s also sweet and funny. It’s just lovely!

    • Kim

      Hurrah! I’m so glad you can’t wait to get your hands on it now. :) This is definitely such a fresh and fascinating read and much different than the contemp I’ve read before. Admittedly, I’m not much of a contemporary reader (fantasy is my true love) but this one really gripped me. Isn’t it wonderful when you like a new-to-you author so much you want to immediately devour their other works? I must say, Wendy’s review (linked in summary) has me really excited to read BROOKLYN,BURNING!

    • Kim

      Excellent! If the blurb alone had you excited you’re going to love this one. I can’t wait for you to read it!

  18. Wendy Darling

    The gaming thing didn’t interest me so much when I heard about this book, but just about everything else about it does, especially after reading your review! I really liked the author’s BROOKLYN, BURNING (I linked my review in the description, hee hee), so I’m looking forward to trying out this one.

    • Kim

      Yeah, it’s hard for me to say how much of a turn off the gaming aspect is for a non-gamer. I’m not an MMO or tabletop RPG gamer like the characters in the book, but I do enjoy console and desktop gaming. I thought the gaming aspects in the book were great despite my not being into those forms of gaming. But then I’m not sure if my like of general gaming affects that. I think I’d say if you’re not a gamer there’s no need to worry and if you are a gamer than it’s just a delightful bonus for you! This book is so delightful and so ultimately not even about gaming but much more important things. It’s the sort of complexity that’s right up your alley.

      Thank you for linking to your review of Brooklyn Burning! (I’m sorry I didn’t think link to it!) I’m even more excited now to get to that one.*sigh* Your reviews are so, so lovely.

      • Wendy Darling

        I am reassured. :D I made some heart eyes at this review myself, so…we are disgustingly full of love here at TMG.

        And you mean to tell me that you don’t have every single review I’ve written cataloged in your head? COME ON, KIM. GET WITH THE PROGRAM.

  19. Cynthia @ Jellyfish Reads

    I started out being really excited about this book, but then I became dubious when I heard that “faggot” was used as a slur several times; I mean, I know it’s a realistic part of gaming culture but at the same time I hear that nobody ever actually calls it out within the book, and obviously I haven’t read the book yet but it seems to me like that would have been a good thing to include? But your review makes me a little more confident and interested in this book again. It sounds like it might be a really worthwhile read after all!
    Cynthia @ Jellyfish Reads recently posted…Discussion: Parents and Grandparents in YA

    • Kim

      *sigh* Yeah, you see it’s frustrating to “defend” because it involves spoilers. How to be as least spoilery as I can possibly be…It’s not ever expressly called out, you’re right. These are Lesh’s friends and it’s there partly to show how harmful our own friends can be, especially when such toxicity is so normative. It is possible that by the end of the book Lesh has realized that his friends are, perhaps, not really the greatest. It’s an important part of his journey. Ugh, it’s so frustrating to not be able to say more than that because of spoilers! There’s a difference between when something casually bigoted is included with unintentional disregard and when it is included to serve a purpose to the story at large and to develop the characters. This usage is not casual unawareness on the author’s part. I didn’t ever have the impression that this is an attitude that the author endorses. It would undermine a great deal of the book if that was the case. It just wouldn’t make sense. I gave this book my “queer fiction” tag but to reveal why would be spoilers (agh this is frustrating!). Sometimes terrible things are present in a story so that we can examine why these things are terrible and how these terrible things affect our characters. It’s not an endorsement.

      Agh. I hope that all made sense. This isn’t just some casually bigoted author throwing slurs out there, I promise.

    • Wendy Darling

      I’ll add my two cents to Kim’s here. I haven’t had the chance to read GUY IN REAL LIFE yet, but after reading his previous book BROOKLYN, BURNING, I don’t have any doubt that the author’s inclusion of that term is deliberate, measured, and there to illustrate a point. B,B was an extremely sensitive book about a kid who was thrown out of the house by the parents because of sexual identity, and there have been few YA books featuring lgbtq characters that have moved me more. I hope that’s somewhat useful to take into account, Cynthia!

      I say lgbtq, but the book was actually from the perspective of someone named Kid, whose gender is never revealed. It’s a neat trick that the author pulls off well, and certainly a storytelling choice that poses a lot of interesting questions about our assumptions and prejudices.

      • Cynthia @ Jellyfish Reads

        This is all really good to know, thank you, Wendy and Kim! I guess I should check out Brooklyn Burning too. But yeah, your comments have made me really excited to read Guy in Real Life again! I’m just so interested in how the book will explore all these issues; examination of gender roles sounds like exactly the kind of thing I love and I’m intrigued by the things that you can’t spoil! I can’t wait to discover it myself. (:
        Cynthia @ Jellyfish Reads recently posted…Discussion: Parents and Grandparents in YA

        • Wendy Darling

          I’m glad we’ve persuaded you to give the author a chance! Let us know what you think of the books when you get around to reading them, if you remember. :)

    • Kim

      Oh it’s *so* much more. But it’s done in such a rather subtle (and skillful) way that I fret that a super casual reader might miss the complexity and the layers altogether. It’s so worth a pick up, though. I hope you’ll give it a shot!

    • Kim

      I knooooow. I was basically like, “But…but…but what happens next?!” It’s okay, though. The ending is full of hope and butterflies. I just wouldn’t have minded some more pages, you know? It was such a pleasant surprise! It would have been great as a straight up contemporary romance but the added layers were just wonderful.

    • Kim

      I thought the gaming incorporation was really well done. It’s integral to the story and not just a sideline. This is definitely a unique book. I can easily see why it won’t go over favorably with many people. And honestly, one of the biggest developments is very subtle and might just seem confusing/weird to a reader going into this just wanting a contemporary romance. I think it’s well worth the pick up. If nothing else this book is funny. :p

    • Kim

      Oh no there should be a good deal ado about this book! It was way different (but in a great way) than I thought it would be. It is definitely not your average realistic fiction love story. The characters have such unique voices and the journey of growth here is something I haven’t seen addressed yet in any other YA literature. Just lovely.
      Kim recently posted…Guy in Real Life: Review

    • Kim

      It is one of the more unique ones I’ve come across and it raises such important questions. I am glad to be of service! :)