Review: PLAYING TYLER, by TL Costa

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I haven’t reviewed anything on here in a while (heck, I haven’t POSTED here in a while), so I figured I’d best get cracking. And honestly, I couldn’t have found a better way to begin a posting cycle than with a review of TL Costa’s Playing Tyler.

The plot summary of Playing Tyler is as follows: 

When is a game not a game?

Tyler MacCandless can’t focus, even when he takes his medication. He can’t focus on school, on his future, on a book, on much of anything other than taking care of his older brother, Brandon, who’s in rehab for heroin abuse… again.

Tyler’s dad is dead and his mom has mentally checked out. The only person he can really count on is his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor, Rick. The one thing in life it seems he doesn’t suck at is playing video games and, well, thats probably not going to get him into college.

Just when it seems like his future is on a collision course with a life sentence at McDonald’s, Rick asks him to test a video game. If his score’s high enough, it could earn him a place in flight school and win him the future he was certain that he could never have. And when he falls in love with the game’s designer, the legendary gamer Ani, Tyler thinks his life might finally be turning around.

That is, until Brandon goes MIA from rehab and Tyler and Ani discover that the game is more than it seems. Now Tyler will have to figure out what’s really going on in time to save his brother… and prevent his own future from going down in flames.

 Playing Tyler is a YA thriller that pulls NO punches. Costa’s respect for teens is apparent from the get-go. Nothing is sugar-coated. A super pet peeve of mine in YA is when an author tones things down a little for their audience, and in turn, makes the story and characters unbelievable. There is none of that here. Neither is the opposite–making things so abysmal that reading the book makes you want to kill yourself. Instead, we have a believable, yet rough, family situation from which evolves a very likable character–Tyler. Tyler has ADHD, and Costa has captured the inner workings of his mind perfectly. As someone with ADHD myself, I recognized myself in him immediately, in a positive way. Tyler’s thought processes, the things that attract his attention, the things that drive him insane–all of these things are very accurate. The character voices (alternating between Tyler and Ani) drew me in right away and didn’t let go. 

The subject matter of this novel is very relevant to our times, but never does it come across as preachy, “this is right, this is wrong.” I think that’s one of the things I liked best about it–it’s a story about young adults who find themselves in a very sticky situation, where there is most definitely a gray moral ground. The storyline is much like Ender’s Game, but right here, right now. This is something that is relevant to people in today’s world, dealing with issues (namely drones, and also prescription drug abuse, whistle blowing…) that are in the spotlight now.

There is, to be honest, something for everyone in this book. Guy, girl, young, er…not so young. Lots of tension here; I could easily have read it in one sitting, had my pesky life not gotten in the way. Action, romance, family, growing up, social and political issues. And gaming. What more could you ask for?

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