Playing Tyler by TL Costa

Playing Tyler book cover
Rating 8.0/10
I think it is a story that teenagers and young adults should be reading and discussing.

Playing Tyler is the debut novel from T. L. Costa. It's Young Adult but not a fantasy novel, more modern day science fiction that acts as a cautionary tale about the current direction global warfare is heading. It's pretty heavy stuff compared to most YA out there, but I would definitely encourage young readers to give this book a read.

The story follows two main characters: Tyler is a teenage boy who suffers from ADHD, is having a hard time at school, has a family who has been through a lot, but is a world class gamer and excellent pilot; Ani is a teenage girl who is also a world class gamer and has just started studying philosophy at Yale. When Ani designs a drone simulation game for a military contractor looking to train gamers for future military roles, she is introduced to Tyler who will be one of the game's play testers. Everything is going great until Tyler starts to notice irregularities in the missions he is flying, and when he and Ani start to investigate, things become dangerous in real life.

The story here is not very complex, and I think that is a good thing. It is just a vessel for Costa to have a discussion about things like ADHD, gamer culture, and the ethics of drone warfare. As I mentioned at the start, this is some heavy stuff for a YA book to be getting into, but Costa makes sure to explore different perspectives of the themes with respect. I think Costa could have taken a risk and written some harder hitting scenes, but that might be me wanting this to be more adult than YA.

Tyler and Ani are reasonably interesting characters, but at times they feel a little stereotypical. Tyler is cast as the creepy gamer who lets gaming control his life, and who becomes stalker-ish when he finally meets a pretty gamer girl who takes his breath away. It's not an unreasonable or an unlikely characterization, but for me it made it hard to connect with Tyler. Ani is much more rounded character, a much more likeable character, and her life is defined by people either judging her for her hobbies or taking advantage of her talents. I thought that part of her character was great, but the part I found stereotypical was her crush on Tyler and the way her brain would just melt around him. Again, its probably not an unreasonable or unlikely characterization, but it felt clichéd when I was reading it. The support cast don't get much time to be developed in this story - Playing Tyler is more focused on discussion of the main themes, and surprisingly, I think I prefer it that way.

Playing Tyler is like a retelling of Ender's Game in a modern setting where the themes and concerns discussed are very real themes and concerns that are being discussed right now in high levels of government. It's not a great story, but it is an important story, and as I mentioned above I think it is a story that teenagers and young adults should be reading and discussing.

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