Review Detail

Kids Fiction 648
Minecraft AND Real Life Drama
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Jake and his father have moved around quite a bit after the death of his mother. His father is a project manager who oversees renovation of public housing complexes, and their latest move has landed them in a somewhat rough Los Angeles neighborhood that is being gentrified. While his father claims that since Jake is entering high school they will make this their final stop, Jake doesn't believe him and prefers to spend his time in the world of Minecraft rather than trying to make friends in the real world. Living in the complex is Thanh, who is Jake's age and who is called "Tank" by the group of kids he hangs around with, including Shark, who is usually up to know good, and Emily, who is ashamed of her larger family because she has friends whose lives are devoted to Instagram, YouTube, and shopping. Tank doesn't play Minecraft much, preferring only the gardening aspect of the world building, although his younger sister Viv does. Emily plays, but is ashamed of the geekiness of the pursuit. The three meet up when they are all caught after hours in a restricted area of the construction zone by a guard. Jake's father, along with community advocate and overseer Ellen Jenkins. Instead of calling the police, Mrs. Jenkins ask that the teens be remanded to her care in order to help clean up the community center that is going to be turned in fancy shops. The kids aren't thrilled, but glad not to be in more trouble. Jake has found an old version of Minecraft on the community center computers, and it involves a mystery that he hasn't been able to solve on his own. He gets Emily and Tank involved, and in between cleaning out sentimental items from Mrs. Jenkin's office, they work their way through the game. Time is not on their side, but they find an unlikely ally, as well as a surprising enemy, to their investigation of the mermaid themed world of the game and the history of the community center. Will they figure out the game before the cord is literally pulled on it?
Good Points
This was a fantasy book involving a game that makes absolutely no sense to me, but I was able to remember the story line and even characters' names, which says to me that this is really strong writing! The parts that I like best were the real life worries. Tank's concern about his father's employment and Tank's willingness to take small jobs to help the family while grappling with issues of personal identity and trying not to get sucked into a life of crime by Shark could have been a book all on its own. Emily's desire to please her friends even though she doesn't really enjoy their activities was nicely balanced at the end when her friends didn't care that her family's abode wasn't as picturesque as their own. Jake's disbelief in his father's promises was well founded, and it was good to see that his father did make progress to giving Jake more stability, and his new friend group was quirky but based on a common interest. Even the story with Mrs. Jenkins was touching. In short, this was a solid, middle grade novel with appeal for students even in high school who are fans of the video game.

There are plenty of details about Minecraft, but I have to admit that I skimmed most of those! Not only do the characters have the mystery to solve, but they struggle with reaching higher levels of the game. They find villages that are interesting, talk about playing online and on their own, get help from other players but struggle with someone in the game trying to sabotage, and talk about creepers, mining, and other things that I found completely incomprehensible. This will no doubt be the big draw for readers who actually have played and understand the game.

I did appreciate that the characters were all entering high school. More middle grade novels need to have older characters.

If this book had NOT had the Minecraft brand and storyline, teachers and librarians would have loved it for its diversity and social themes. The Shipwreck is definitely a whole grain, fiber added Pop Tart of a book!
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