From School Library Journal
Grade 10 Up Wei-dong, known to his Orange County family as Leonard, is addicted to guild game play with his Chinese colleagues. Mala and Yasmin, brilliant strategists, are gaming from an Internet cafe in the poor streets of Dharavi. Matthew and Lu are trying to establish their own freelance gold-farming operation in the rough city of Shenzhen. Guided from Singapore by the secretive Big Sister Nor, these young people are slowly coming together and forming a union to demand basic working conditions and protection from organized crime rackets. In order to prove their strength, these Webblies take over the three games owned by the Coca-Cola Company. Battling for real-world rights in a virtual environment, they must overcome corrupt cops, determined sys ops, and social indifference to beat the game. Doctorow is continually at the leading edge of electronic issues, rallying supporters to the causes of intellectual freedom, privacy, and social justice. Readers will appreciate the game descriptions, but will have a harder time relating the gold-farming issues back to their own play. Lengthy asides detail the workings of the game economies, but they aren't as skillfully incorporated as in Little Brother
(Tor, 2008). The characters are well formed, but at times it is difficult to keep their interactions in order. Leonard's internal rant with his father is preachy and somewhat tenuous as a justification for the benefits of social gaming. On the other hand, Yasmin's emotional turmoil and attempt to reconcile her upbringing with her current circumstances is honest and rewarding. Full of action and information, this is a solid, if occasionally soapbox-worthy, narrative. Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library
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*Starred Review* Doctorow is indispensable. It’s hard to imagine any other author taking on youth and technology with such passion, intelligence, and understanding. Although perhaps less urgent than Little Brother (2008), this effort is superior in every other aspect: scope, plot, character, and style. Set in the near future and in locations across the globe (though primarily China and India), the story involves a sweeping cast of characters making a living—if you want to call brutal conditions and pitiful wages a “living”—in such virtual-game worlds as Svartalfheim Warriors and Zombie Mecha. Many of them, like 15-year-old Mala (known by her troops as “General Robotwalla”), endure physical threats from their bosses to farm virtual gold, which is then sold to rich First World gamers. Then these brilliant teens are brought together by the mysterious Big Sister Nor, who has a plan to unionize and bring these virtual worlds—and real-world sweatshops, too—to a screeching halt. Once again Doctorow has taken denigrated youth behavior (this time, gaming) and recast it into something heroic. He can’t resist the occasional lecture—sometimes breaking away from the plot to do so—but thankfully his lessons are riveting. With it’s eye-opening humanity and revolutionary zeal, this ambitious epic is well worth the considerable challenge. Grades 10-12. --Daniel Kraus