2014 Book #1 – Leveling Up, by J.R. Tague

What a seriously cool book to start the new year with! It wasn’t my usual fare, but I had so much fun reading Leveling Up, by J.R. Tague that I couldn’t put it down.

leveling up

I should note that J.R. Tague is a real-life friend of mine and I was involved in the really early beta-reading process. But it has been super cool to see how this book has grown. I’ve always been impressed with my friend’s talent, but seeing the finished product after all that work is such a great experience.

I don’t usually read YA and I’m not necessarily inclined to reach for a zombie book when looking for something to read, but what Julia has accomplished with Leveling Up transcends genre, as far as I’m concerned. The story is interesting and the pace really picks up to heart-pounding level by the end. It’s the characters that really make this book though.

First of all, I had a horrible, rotten time in high school. So does Max, the main character and first-person narrator of Leveling Up. It’s such a relief to read about someone whose experience of high school has been even worse than mind, if that’s humanly possible. But for Max it’s not the usual peer pressure, bullying mess that you would usually expect to see in a high school novel. Nope, for Max, life is almost non-existent. Which is part of the point. Max’s whole life is video games.

I’m not much of a gamer either, but I still found everything about Max totally relatable. Not to give too much away, but he finds himself issued an ultimatum: get a life or suffer the consequences. Poor Max has to navigate social pressures without any inherent ability to be anything close to a popular kid. Fortunately for him, he makes a few lucky friends along the way. And he has a sister, Molly, who runs the gamut from being a typical obnoxious teenage girl to a really decent human being.

What really makes this book, though, is the voice. The story is told by Max in his own words. I have rarely seen a first-person narrative told with such character, such color, and in a way that is so true to a painfully dorky teenage gamer boy! In a way the plot could have been just about anything and I would have loved it as long as I could listen to Max’s thoughts. Poor Max! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that he is not a savvy kid who always makes the right decision and manages to invent his happily ever after as he assumes the role of hero. Nope. In fact, sometimes Max is downright pathetic. But I mean that in the nicest possible way! He’s actually more of a hero and far braver than he gives himself credit for.

And then there are the zombies. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone approaching zombie like this before. Max is a zombie. Yes, a zombie protagonist! And it works so well. There is, of course, way more to it than just that. This is the first book in a series. I’m lucky enough to know some of what’s coming in the future books, but my lips are sealed. I know things about the secondary characters too, namely Max’s two surprise new friends—cool, popular guy Adam and cute cheerleader Penny—and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series to see how these things get brought out. There is more to everyone than meets the eye.

Oh, and death gods. Specifically death god Steve. Brilliant!

I highly recommend going out and getting this one ASAP, but be ready to hold your breath at the end and demand “Where’s the next one?!?!?” That’s exactly what I’m saying right now!

Next up for 2014, something entirely different….

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