Playing Tyler - T.L. Costa From The BiblioSanctum.

My thanks to Netgalley and Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry for providing me with an e-ARC of Playing Tyler in exchange for an honest review. When I read the synopsis for this young adult novel, it was the video game angle that initially piqued my interest. Being an avid gamer myself, I was immediately drawn to the story.

It begins with just a typical day for 17-year-old Tyler MacCandless. Tyler has ADHD, but has long stopped taking his medication because his older brother Brandon kept stealing it before landing himself in rehab for drug abuse. School's a struggle when none of the other students or his teachers understand what's going on in his life. Tyler's father is dead and his mother isn't dealing too well with the problems at home, so the only person Tyler can turn to is Rick, his friend and mentor at the Civilian Air Patrol.

Tyler loves playing video games, so it was a dream come true one day when Rick asks him to beta test a new flight simulator, which may also be Tyler's chance to get into flight school if he scores well enough. Even better, the designer behind the game is teen prodigy Ani Bagdorian AKA Slayergrrl, legendary International League Gaming champion. It doesn't take long for the two of them to strike up a romantic relationship. However, just as Tyler think his life is finally on the right track, Brandon goes missing from rehab and it appears there is more to the simulator game than meets the eye.

Right away, I liked that this was a story about two teenagers who fall outside conventions when it comes to YA protagonists. Video gaming as a hobby is still often made a subject of ridicule in mainstream pop culture, with its enthusiasts portrayed as weirdos who don't get out much, which is why I love how the hero and heroine of this novel are both hardcore gamers. When you try to picture someone who is good enough to win championships at international gaming competitions, you don't typically think of a smart and beautiful 16-year-old female Yale student, which is why I think Ani is especially kick-ass.

Still, at first, I wasn't sure if I was going to get into this book. It begins with Tyler's perspective, whose ADHD made his narration a little confusing to follow, since the writing style is so abrupt to convey that his attention is all over the place. The positive side is that it's also very effective, because it made me feel like I'm actually inside his head. Tyler's sections do get a bit easier on the eyes after a while, once you start getting used to it. Ani's point-of-view, which alternates with Tyler's, also helped change things up a little and gave me the breaks I needed.

The story itself was a little predictable, perhaps, and yet still quite suspenseful, especially once you reach the final chapters. But one thing I wasn't a big fan of was the romance. I'm aware that having the element of a love story is a big thing and a wise decision in YA fiction these days, but quite honestly, I felt Playing Tyler could have been much stronger and better as a straight-up thriller suspense story.

Even just the gradual build-up of the relationship between Tyler and Ani would have been sufficient, without the first third of the novel devoted to getting them together. I felt that bogged down the beginning of the story somewhat, and that's really where I'm looking for a book to hook me and pick up momentum. Though, I do have to admit I found some of the awkward "first date" moments oddly enjoyable to read, especially with Tyler's penchant to say the wrong things at the wrong time. It was sort of funny and cute in its own way.

I would say this book would be perfect for its intended audience, which includes readers who like YA fiction as well as older teens, since it does contain mature themes and some instances of strong language. There's a good combination of thrills and intrigue, a very strong debut novel from a new author and an engaging read over all.