Leon Levels Up

Orca. (Orca ­Currents). Feb. 2024. 112p. pap. $10.95. ISBN 9781459837355.
Gr 4-7–Virtual-reality gaming and video games are popular across the board with tweens and teens, regardless of gender. Educators and parents are also often searching for read-alikes for fans of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series. Themes of belonging, finding your people, and social acceptance, combined with a gaming-focused plot, will resonate with tweens. Leon, 12, and a gaming savant, has been invited by classmate Nico, the son of a famous video game developer, to play a new game. The VR game is still in experimental stages, and the 4D immersion experience quickly turns deadly as the players lose communication and experience physical ill-effects. Since Leon negatively compares himself to others, this book could be used along with Jarrett Lerner’s A Work in Progress in a unit about body shaming, as well as in discussions about the social-emotional effects of poverty, isolation of technology, anxiety, and the value of real friendship. Leon’s desire for friendship and popularity almost costs him his life in this high-stakes sci-fi adventure. Coccia’s text is dyslexia-friendly with features like accessible font, cream-colored paper, and larger trim size.
VERDICT Hopefully, readers will grasp the author’s message about obsession with technology and heed the warning. A good choice for most collections..

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