Happy Saturday, Reading Nook!
Today, I'm reviewing Julia Durango's The Leveller. It's an exciting, irresistible techno-thriller with a protagonist on a mission to retrieve someone from a virtual world.
I went into this book not really sure what to expect, but came out of it really appreciating Nixy, and loving just everything that Durango has related. Read on to find out why you should read this book!
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published June 23rd 2015 by HarperCollins
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
But when the game’s billionaire developer loses track of his own son in the MEEP, Nixy is in for the biggest challenge of her bounty-hunting career. Wyn Salvador isn’t some lazy kid looking to escape his homework: Wyn does not want to be found. And he’s left behind a suicide note. Nixy takes the job but quickly discovers that Wyn’s not hiding—he’s being held inside the game against his will. But who is holding him captive, and why?
Nixy and Wyn attempt to fight their way out of a mind game unlike any they’ve encountered, and the battle brings them closer than either could have imagined. But when the whole world is virtual, how can Nixy possibly know if her feelings are real?
Nixy Bauer is a fearless, entrepreneurial high school student who works to earn her college tuition by being a Leveller, someone who is hired by parents to pull their children out of the virtual reality MEEP and back into the real world.
But when Nixy is asked to retrieve the son of MEEP’s founder and primary developer, she quickly realizes that she’s in for the challenge of her life. Everyone thinks that Wyn Salvador has gone into MEEP to end his life, but Nixy quickly discovers that there are greater forces at play. Someone or something is holding Wyn against his will, and it’s up to the two of them to figure out what’s going on…
The Leveller is one of those great examples in YA, where a book starts off as one thing, but quickly reveals many hidden and awesome layers underneath. While the book starts as a quest for Nixy to pull Wyn from Meep, both Nixy and the reader quickly realize that there are so many more issues at play.
Durango does a fine job of setting up the rules and foundations of a multi-lateral virtual world, showing both the advantages and disadvantages of having a world that you can bend and manipulate to your will. The disadvantages manifest themselves in truly terrifying form: sharks, anacondas and the stuff of nightmares stalk Nixy as she works to find Wyn, but it's the advantages that open up a world of new questions and ideas.
When Nixy's quest results in her stumbling onto Wyn's MEEP recreation of a pre-revolutionary Havana, Durango takes the opportunity to ask some truly thought-provoking questions on whether the MEEP technology can be utilized outside of strict game play - e.g. providing a virtual environment for disabeled individuals to walk again - and if those advantages are worth any other prices that might need to be paid along the way. It's an eye-opening moment that will likely have younger readers wondering about the possiblities of their own technology as well.
But even as Nixy and Wyn grapple with the bigger picture, Durango smartly it a point to continue to throw obstacle after obstacle at Nixy and Wyn. Readers will appreciate Nixy's ability to remain cool and analytical under pressure, but also for her added-in quirks. Nixy’s penchant for swearing in Norwegian, and decision to amuse herself by occasionally playing to the virtual environment around her - wench dress! Potato gun! - add a nice sprinkle of brevity in darker moments.
The one issue that some readers may find with The Leveller, is the fact that Durano never fully resolves some of the issues presented by the antagonist. Readers are left with a bit of a cliffhanger, with several fates and MEEP-world questions, unresolved.
However, this likely won’t matter to reader who have been enthralled by the overall action. Moreover, the ambiguous ending should be taken as a good sign; it looks like The Leveller is actually the first book in a series, so Durango is likely leaving some of the pertinent action for future development.
Durango has managed to achieve that fine line of not only having action worthy of an episode of Alias, but also nicely develops her story with both a protagonist with the sass and bravery of a Whedon-esque heroine, and with some significant real-world societal and technological questions to boot. Nixy is a likable, unforgettable heroine, and I fully anticipate that other readers will like her as much as I do.
I highly recommend this book for fans of techno thrillers, but also for reluctant readers. Nixy’s voice is irresistible, and her (mis)adventures in MEEP will pull readers in, from beginning to end.
About the author:
Julia Durango lives in Ottawa, IL, with her two teenage sons. She first fell in love with video games when she bought a Nintendo 64 for her oldest son, Kyle, on the birth of his baby brother, Ryan.
Many hours of game play and several game systems later, both boys have long surpassed Julia in video gaming prowess, though she still clings to a time when Kyle would beg her to beat the bosses for him in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Ryan envied her super-posh village in Animal Crossing. Her picture book, Cha-Cha Chimps, was selected for the 2014 Illinois Reads list. You can visit her online at www.juliadurango.com.