Click Here to Start
Using his specially honed skills, Ted sets off to win the greatest game he’s ever played, with help from his friends Caleb and Isabel. Together they discover that Uncle Ted’s “treasure” might be exactly that—real gold and jewels found by a Japanese American unit that served in World War II. With each puzzle Ted and his friends solve, they get closer to unraveling the mystery—but someone dangerous is hot on their heels, and he’s not about to let them get away with the fortune.
When 12-year-old Ted Gerson has his first conversation with his namesake—his mother’s beloved Uncle Ted—it’s on the man’s deathbed. And it’s there that Ted receives what turns out to be instructions on entering into an elaborate, real-life “game”—the concealment method of choice for his great-uncle’s legacy. With his penchant for escape-room puzzle games, and the help of his best friend and a new-to-town genius girl, Ted aims to discover what possible treasure his enigmatic WW2 veteran relative left behind for him to find.
What I Liked:
I truly enjoyed what little we got to see of Uncle Ted. We receive just a glimpse of his gallows humor and tough, crotchety determination for there to be some justification to the hermit-like isolation of his final years. The incorporation of his WW2 combat regiment and is also a huge strongpoint—and hopefully a lingering point of interest for young readers.
Ted is half Japanese and half Jewish, and his ethnic identity confusion is addressed at some length. There was a definite pride and focus on the Japanese side of his heritage—but that was consistent with the plot. And the Jewish element didn’t fall completely by the wayside. There was even a very realistic mentioning of the elitism he encounters at one point over not being Jewish enough, in the estimation of one of his classmates. Just as with the historical elements, the issue seemed to be handled with respectful intent.
While the book is being billed as something for Ready Player One fans, it has some definite advantages in the realm of age-appropriateness. The language is kept mild, there are no sexual references, and there’s no effort put toward worldview indoctrination.
What Left Me Wanting More:
I personally felt the comparison to Ready Player One was a marketing stretch. While Click Here To Start does pay homage to a relatively ancient class of digital games, it’s genre focus is much more narrow and it ultimately lacks most of the 80’s nostalgia factor that garnered RPO its enthusiastic following. It is also taking place in a base contemporary setting, whereas RPO goes through some semi-significant worldbuilding to portray a dystopian near-future with heavy emphasis on online interface tech.
Readers will be left with a sizable logic hole, as the digital element to this grand scale puzzle is never really explained. (i.e. Ted is given clues and walkthrough opportunities via a mysterious online version of the real life puzzle he’s attempting to solve, but there isn’t a satisfying culprit offered up. This could possibly be leaving things open for successive books, but there wasn’t much clarity on whether that would get tied up in a later installment. It feels more like a forgotten and oddly voyeuristic thread.)
There was also the looming opportunity to share more about the 442nd Regiment—the most decorated combat team in WW2, and monumentally comprised entirely of Japanese Americans. I would have loved to read something of Uncle Ted’s thoughts on his Regiment, their missions, or the treatment of Japanese Americans back home in the internment camps—anything to help me as a reader connect more with the real and fascinating history there, rather than just the escape game element of the plot. But alas, no personalizing thoughts or writings come up. (Granted there is enough factual info offered that readers can look up more to verify its authenticity, but it didn’t really evoke an emotional response or motive to do so.) I can’t help but feel like it was a missed opportunity to subtly engage middle grade readers with more empathy and interest in historical events.
The hardest part for me was the lack of attachment I was able to form with any of the characters. Our main character, Ted, hates reading, is excessively judgmental, and distressingly low in empathy. I could forgive the general oblivious 12-year-old self-contentedness, but not the cruel and hypocritical behavior toward Isabel. He dislikes her on sight and deems her: "A nerd girl. A weirdo." All because she likes to read. (Ted, on the other hand, is video-game obsessed and admits it's pretty much all he's good at.) When he finds out the girl he’s been bashing has recently lost her mother, he has –zero- emotional reaction to this. None. It doesn't even seem to slow down his attitude problem.
Worse still, readers start to realize many chapters later that his snap judgments about Isabel are generally correct. Given time to get to know her, she comes off as increasingly smug, superior, and anal-retentive. I’m afraid those like me—who were hoping for Ted to be proven wrong and forced to reassess his biases—will be sorely disappointed by the lack of character development.
While this book appeals to a largely niche audience, the pleasantly readable prose has the potential to draw in more hesitant readers who happen to enjoy real and/or virtual puzzles.
The use of video games will give this instant appeal to middle grade readers, and it was well done to have the game be involved in the mystery. The real life parallels of finding clues in the apartment, and later, using escape room game skills to help Isabel get out of her house were fascinating even if the reader does not play games.
Isabel, a transplant from New York City, has a different view of the San Fernando Valley than Caleb and Ted do, and seeing it through her eyes (and seeing her through Ted's) creates some interesting juxtaposition. I love it when a city or area is so richly described throughout a book so that it almost becomes a character. Isabel's recent loss of her mother gives her father a good excuse for moving cross country, and isn't talked about excessively.
Caleb's family situation is realistic as well, and not overdone. The best family situation is, of course, Ted's. His father brings his own quirkiness to the family-- he is of Jewish descent, with family back in New York, teaches English literature, and has an obsession with a catalog of French farmhouse furniture. Ted's mother is of Japanese descent and was raised in Hawaii, but came to California to study as a nurse. Using this cultural background to then bring in WWII history was especially brilliant.
This book will appeal to a wide audience. Readers who enjoyed Schreiber's Game Over, Pete Watson will enjoy the video game component; fans of Fitzgerald's Under the Egg will enjoy reading more about the Monuments Men; detective story aficionados will revel in the inclusion of The Maltese Falcon story. This is a great book to hand to just about any middle grade reader since the cover is bright and appealing and the story highlights good friends involved in an intriguing mystery.