Review: Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa

Friday, July 5, 2013

Playing Tyler
Title: Playing Tyler
Author: T.L. Costa
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Date of Publication: July 2, 2013

When is a game not a game?

Tyler MacCandless can’t focus, even when he takes his medication. He can’t focus on school, on his future, on a book, on much of anything other than taking care of his older brother, Brandon, who’s in rehab for heroin abuse… again.

Tyler’s dad is dead and his mom has mentally checked out. The only person he can really count on is his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor, Rick. The one thing in life it seems he doesn’t suck at is playing video games and, well, thats probably not going to get him into college.

Just when it seems like his future is on a collision course with a life sentence at McDonald’s, Rick asks him to test a video game. If his score’s high enough, it could earn him a place in flight school and win him the future he was certain that he could never have. And when he falls in love with the game’s designer, the legendary gamer Ani, Tyler thinks his life might finally be turning around.

That is, until Brandon goes MIA from rehab and Tyler and Ani discover that the game is more than it seems. Now Tyler will have to figure out what’s really going on in time to save his brother… and prevent his own future from going down in flames.

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My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thank you to Amanda of Strange Chemistry for the ARC! As always, everything in here would be my honest opinions.

I've always had a soft spot for novels with a protagonist who's diagnosed with a mental or psychological syndrome/illness. Some of those that I loved are Flowers of Algernon by Daniel Keyes and The Curious Incident of the Dog at the Night-time by Mark Haddon. I cried in the first and I related so much to the second. My younger brother is diagnosed with autism and verbal apraxia (finds it hard to speak - my brother, while being 13, still can't form and speak sentences). So I know how people look at them funny and I also know how supportive people who are actually in the know can be. I love my little brother, I really, really do and so I find myself having a weakness for these novels. While the protagonist in Playing Tyler has ADHD and dyslexia, which might not be as severe as autism or apraxia, he still felt close to my heart. Some reviews targeted at how unfocused he is but sigh, guys, he has ADHD after all. That's how it is. So enough with my personal preferences and let's get to the review!

Playing Tyler is told in both Tyler and Ani's perspectives but it was mostly narrated by Tyler. Tyler has ADHD but he's a whiz at video games. He dreams of going to flight school and becoming a pilot. His dad died and he only has his mom, who's physically there but not emotionally and mentally, and his brother, who's in rehab though for drug addiction. He's quite alone except for his gamer best friends in school and his mentor, Rick. Tyler looks up to Rick as if he's his father and in turn, Rick treats him like a son. He then enlists Tyler to try out the latest simulation game Ani, a programming genius, had developed for the company he works for.

He then meets Ani and develops a crush on her. Ani pushes him away at first because she shouldn't be talking to those who are beta-testing the game. But in the end, Tyler wears her out and they start bonding. I adore how awkward they were at first because they're both clueless on what to do with the budding attraction. Then they get to know each other and sparks definitely fly. The romance in here was palpable, cute and sweet even amidst the dangers in both of their lives.

While it was pretty obvious even from just the blurb what the deal is with the game, it took long for Tyler to realize what Rick was actually making him do. Which kind of made me impatient with it because I just wanted hell to break loose. But the romance did distract me from feeling frustrated and I immensely enjoyed Tyler and Ani's dates, conversations and interactions. So much so that when shit went down, they were already in it together.

This was a fast read, despite my initial apprehension to how the conflict didn't arise sooner. I guess Tyler's rapidfire thought process made for a speedy reading. The contrast betwen Tyler and Ani's point-of-views were very obvious, which I really like. When Tyler and Ani discover what's really going down in the game, everything flies by so fast with the schemes and plans and the missions. It was certainly exciting to see Tyler and Ani battle it out with their wits, bluffs and strategies with Rick.

For me, the defining moment of this novel was the show of the epic bond and love between Tyler and Brandon. Brotherhood isn't the focus of this novel but that scene definitely wrecked me. I BAWLED.

Told in dual perspectives successfully showcasing the personalities and thought processes of the main characters, Playing Tyler is a gritty and thrilling novel on how a game can be all too real. A wonderful debut novel from T.L. Costa! I will certainly read her next books!

About T.L. Costa

T. L. Costa is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and has a Masters of Teaching from Quinnipiac University who taught high school for five years before becoming a full-time mom and writer.

She has lived in Texas, New York, New Jersey and Spain. Currently, she lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children.

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