Unavoidable Spoilers for this, and Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell! I would recommend both of these authors, even if you read this and know/discover some of the details. These are spoilers, but they're not, imo, SPOILERS!
"But I don't get one thing, and it's a kind of important thing," Svetlana says, and here she finally stops and turns to face me. "Do you want to be with me, or do you want to be me?"
I recently read Guy in Real Life,* by Steve Brezenoff. I seem to have preordered it. I do that a lot, and then can't remember why. Could have been the cover. Could have been a comparison to Eleanor and Park. Could have been that they have similar covers. As I type this, that seems to job my memory. An article on cover trends!
As an unabashed fan of YA, I like a lot of things I'm seeing these days, particularly books about misfits and geeks. Another book I read about a year ago that works for this trend is The Summer I Became a Nerd. "Summer" and "Guy" are very similar in exploring the same gaming world.
Guy went to a surprising place, and did so in a way I could have never predicted. Lemme explain.
In the beginning, "Guy" reads as a simple love story. Lesh and Lana have a bit of a meet cute, and it seems like their obstacle is going to be that he's a headbanger — is that still the term? — and she's a D&D dungeon master.
Where it subtly went a different way is that Lesh, while grounded, gets pulled into World of Warcraft. (Never mentioned by name.) He doesn't find himself interested in playing an orc and gaming with his friend, but secretly creates an elf who looks a whole lot like Lana.
This decision could be chalked up to horny boy creating a hot looking female to stare at, who looks like his crush. And this is maybe what it is, or part of what it is, or how it started. As he games, he finds himself slipping into the role of Svvetlana. (Two v's because regularly Svetlana was already used in the game.) He allows other players to think he's female.
And there are repercussions. See, not spoiling more than I must for this discussion.
I will say that he learns a little of what it's like to be female, including the male gaze, and someone who crosses boundaries in a way that most women either know or fear.
Eventually Lana finds out about his character, and asks the question quoted above. And here, for me, is the biggest similarity to Eleanor and Park. Both endings, in the tradition of The Lady or the Tiger? doesn't answer all the questions, instead asking the reader to reach his or her own conclusion. Lesh answers Lana, to an extent, and is honest, but the reader will be left with questions.
Like any sane person, I have a love/hate relationship with endings like this. Eleanor and Park has me mentally begging for One More Line!
It's clear Lesh likes — like likes — Lana. It's also clear he wishes he could be more like Lana, to what extent is left unclear. Maybe the point is that he doesn't have to know that answer today.
Lana, by the way, is terrific. Intelligent, funny, creative. And even formidable.
I would recommend this book, all the books mentioned, with a recommend in capital letters for Eleanor and Park! What I think might not work for some readers of Guy in Real Life is a lot of time is spent in the various games, and those are written very realistically, with immersion in those fantasy realms. It's cool and creative, and so very relevant about who Lesh and Lana really are, but if you think nothing ever happens on Mad Men, or that there was no point to the "beetle" scene in Game of Thrones, eh.
Of "Guy" and "Summer," I would label "Summer" the more accessible book about gaming and geek culture (and being a girl into these things) if this is foreign territory. I recommend Eleanor and Park to anyone with a soul.**
Still, "Guy" raises interested questions about identity and the search for self. The characters feel real, complex, and engaging. I was blow away by how Brezenoff deftly lead me into the book, and had me read a good long way, before I realized some of the issues he'd brought into play. I have to wonder if some of this is because if I, a woman, play WoW as a guy, no one will give me grief — in fact, I'll get less grief, and be allowed to game in piece* — and the exercise never raises questions about identity. My choice would be met with a shrug, a male playing as a female is looked at as dishonest, and his gender identity and sexuality are regarded with suspicion.
Good choice, you, in picking this book. Allow me to pat myself on the back.
*Guy in Real Life becomes an acronym, G.I.R.L. This refers to men pretending to be women. Some of the "men" undoubtedly would not self-identify as such.
**Okay, there are some people with souls who probably didn't like E&P, so please allow me my moment of hyperbole.
***But like Lesh, love playing a female blood elf. I prefer a hunter to a healer, though.