The Good War

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3.5 (2)
 
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The Good War
Author(s)
Age Range
10+
Release Date
January 26, 2021
ISBN
978-0593173657
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From the author of The Wave comes a poignant and timely novel about a group of seventh graders who are brought together—and then torn apart—by an afterschool club that plays a video game based on WW2.

There's a new afterschool club at Ironville Middle School.

Ms. Peterson is starting a video game club where the students will playing The Good War, a new game based on World War II.

They are divided into two teams: Axis and Allies, and they will be simulating a war they know nothing about yet. Only one team will win. But what starts out as friendly competition, takes an unexpected turn for the worst when an one player takes the game too far.

Can an afterschool club change the way the students see eachother...and how they see the world?

Editor reviews

2 reviews

Social issues and video gaming
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Caleb is glad he was able to help his school get eight new computers with a grant so that an eSports club could be started, and the school would have access to come new technology, since the computers are more powerful and can run 3D modeling programs. The teacher who worked with him, Mrs. B., wants Caleb to invite Zach to join the group. Zach is a student who struggles a lot and is picked on by the obnoxious Crosby and Gavin, who no longer have a football team to subsume their energy, since it was disabanded due to budget cuts. Emma, who has a crush on Caleb, is also interested in the group, but she is not happy when Mackenzie and her minion Isabella show up at the meeting. The eSports group decides to play the game The Good War, which is really popular, and divide into two groups. Caleb, Zach, Emma, and new student Nathan play the Allied side of the game, and Gavin, Crosby, Mackenzie, Isabella and Tyler are on the Axis side. Nathan is a bit leery of hanging out with his teammates, since he is trying to align himself with the popular kids, and Caleb especially is looked down upon as "Extra Credit Caleb", and a bit of a suck up. The games get going, and the Axis players start exhibiting worrisome signs. They wear t shirts with lightning bolts (a Nazi symbol), and when those are banned, wear gray with German army medals. Crosby is leading these efforts, having had conversations online with a guy in his twenties who keeps talking about white supremacy. Wanting to impress him, Crosby starts internalizing some of these ideas. While Caleb starts to become better friends with Zach and Emma, the tensions start to escalate at school. When the computers are a target of malware when the competition starts to get heated, the eSports club is in danger of being shut down. Racial tensions outside of school pose a danger to members of the club as well. Will The Good War end up being a bad idea?
Good Points
There are a lot of good, realistic moments in this. Anyone who remembers Channel One News will know that struggling schools have long depended on grants and corporate sponsorship to provide much needed technology to students. Mrs. B. is concerned for her students, and reads them well. Encouraging Caleb to approach Zach is something I can see teachers doing. The eSports club was harder for me to get my mind around, but with the popularity of this (along with the very realistic cutting of football teams due to concerns about concussions) means that we will see more and more of this sort of club. I really enjoyed the fact that Emma was into the game, and her interest in Caleb, as a friend, teammate, and crush, was spot on. Like this author's The Wave (1981), this addresses important and timely topics of race relations and troublesome ideologies.

When Mrs. B. saw that Crosby's group was internalizing Nazi ideas, she should have immediately broken up and rearranged the groups. I wouldn't have allowed that particular game any longer. Of course, then there wouldn't have been much of a story!

Video games are a hot topic for students, and there are a lot of fantasy books involving them, such as Mancusi's Dragon Ops, Anderson's Insert Coin to Continue, and Hansen's graphic novel My Video Game Ate My Homework. There are fewer that address video game playing in real life, such as Korman's Slacker and Brown's Josh Baxter Levels Up, but including gaming in the plot is a great way to get readers invested in the book.
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contemporary middle grade with some heavy themes
Overall rating 
 
3.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
3.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
THE GOOD WAR is an intriguing middle grade novel about growing up, the pitfalls and benefits of social media/interactive gaming, and friendship. At a struggling middle school where funding has taken away the football team, Caleb applied with his teacher, Ms. B, to get gaming computers to start an eSports team. This club gets its first members, and they select the game (quickly screened), The Good War, modeled after WWII, which many of the students also play at home.

The teams are chosen and play the Allies and Axis sides. Before long, these roles take on more and dangerous power. In addition, one of the members who plays at home is exposed to other players who are white supremacists, and this influence is as insidious as one would expect. The book ultimately deals with the dangers of communication online, the need to understand history, and the evolving identity of children this age.

What I loved: While it starts very light with some gross humor (loogies spit onto the bathroom ceiling), the book ultimately covers some heavy topics. These themes, including those about social media, prejudices/racism, and bullying, are discussed throughout and would be great to accompany discussions after reading the book to give children additional resources and ways that they can seek help if they see something similar happening in real life. Although there are several characters, they were all really intriguing and middle grade readers will enjoy them.

What left me wanting more: The selection of the game (rated M) and escalation seemed implausible in a supervised school club setting (unclear how it got so far). On the flipside, if these things had not happened, the themes would not have been so well explored. There was also some body function humor throughout, which were not my favorite, but will definitely delight some middle grade readers.

Final verdict: Overall, THE GOOD GAME was an intriguing contemporary middle grade novel that deals with some hefty topics. Would recommend reading in communication with adults for additional resources and discussion of the themes.
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