Review: In Real Life – Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang


Genre: Graphic novel, YA

Publication date: 14th October 2014 by First Second

Format: Paperback copy purchased from Waterstone’s

Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role-playing game where she spends most of her free time. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. 

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer–a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behaviour is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake. 


The artwork and colour palette in this graphic novel is absolutely stunning. There were subtle changes in the colours to indicate a change in location and whether Anda is in the game or not, and it was just beautifully executed. I fell completely in love with the illustrations, they made this graphic novel for me.

The plot was very different – I’m not usually one to pick up things related to gaming though, so I may be wrong. I found it relatively easy to keep up with, despite not being very familiar with gaming as a hobby. I loved the fact that the main character was female; I feel like games are predominantly thought of as a male hobby, so it was fantastic to see that the respected players were female.

I also enjoyed the link across cultures covered in this book, with a friendship forming between Anda in America and ‘Raymond’ in China. It was interesting to see how the authors/illustrators decided to discuss the differences between them – how they struggled with finances in completely different ways. In the introduction by Cory Doctorow, he describes it as a book about economics, and indeed it is, but it is discussed in a much more interesting (and colourful) way.

Anda’s character is a particular favourite of mine – she’s just a normal girl, I guess – no superpower or anything like that is what I’m trying to get at. She’s an average girl who happens to be very good at gaming and wants to help people. She’s thrilled at being chosen to get involved in the first place and wants to please her ‘Sarge’, and then, later on, wants to help her new friend. She’s a good person, but complex too, and we see her conflict as she tries to help her friend in a different country, but please (and obey) her parents at the same time. I just really, really liked her character and her development (I’m struggling to elaborate without adding spoilers!).

I really enjoyed this graphic novel, especially as I was unsure about picking it up in the first place. Knowing very little about gaming didn’t impact my reading of it – as I have seen some people say – but maybe I would have enjoyed it more, had I more interest in games. The illustrations in it were simply gorgeous and were 100% the reason for me picking it up in the first place, and they definitely didn’t disappoint in reading it.

Rating: 4 / 5 🌟


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