A 12-year-old video gamer learns to “level up” his academic and social skills to meet real-life challenges.
Josh Baxter Levels Up by Gavin Brown. Scholastic, 2016, 172 pages.
Reading level: Middle Grades, 10-12
Recommended for: ages 8-12, especially boys
Reality isn’t easy for a compulsive gamer, especially when your single mom is holding down two jobs and just moved you to a new town where she expects you to get good grades and make friends. None of that is happening; instead, Josh makes an enemy on Day 1 of the school year. When Mom takes all his games away until he can bring his grades up, Josh digs deep into gaming analogies to solve his problems with the help of some nerdy friends and a sympathetic teacher.
The story is pretty standard fare, but positive nonetheless: Though Josh humorously finds inspiration through his favorite game/comic book/movie heroes, his real hero is his dad, who sadly passed away two years ago. Also, Josh manages to make peace—sort of—to his arch enemy (even though that rivalry seems a bit contrived). The gaming references are clever, including the “Chapter Complete” pages that reflect Josh’s real life challenges, complete with health ratings, points, skills unlocked, and achievement levels. The illustrations, analogies, and non-intimidating length might even encourage serious gamers to put down the controls and pick up the book.
Overall Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)