FICTION

Josh Baxter Levels Up

192p. Scholastic. Mar. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780545772945; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9780545772952.
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Gr 4–7—Replete with gaming metaphors, the otherwise typical plot of a boy grappling with challenges at home and at school is given fresh appeal. Josh has had to move and attend three different schools within two years of losing his father. He relies on his favorite video games to distract him from real-life difficulties. But things seem to take a turn for the worse when Josh starts at a new middle school, becomes the target of a bully, and has his treasured video game collection withheld due to sinking grades. Josh realizes that he needs to take the strategies learned in his games and apply them in life: he evaluates what the heroes of his games would do and makes a plan to "level up." Each chapter ends with a video game-style update of the protagonist's level, health, lives, and new skills unlocked. Readers will be engaged in this likable lead's quest to solidify burgeoning friendships via a school video game decathlon. Secondary peer characters of both genders and diverse backgrounds add texture. Josh's mother and teachers are supportive secondary characters, demonstrating positive relationships between youths and adults. As a video game designer, the author understands the games in detail and what they mean to enthusiasts, rendering the gaming analogies relatable to the intended audience.
VERDICT Recommended as an enticing addition, especially for middle school gamers and reluctant readers.

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