Guy in Real Life

 
Sweet, utterly believable romance/fantasy explores identity.

What parents need to know

Educational value

There are a few phrases in French, although only one is translated. Basic information about MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) is given. Part of the plot of Berlioz's Marche au supplice is briefly explained and includes a bit about the way the music advances the plot and expresses emotion.

Positive messages

Gender identity is worth careful consideration and includes how you present yourself to the world and whether you identify with one or both genders. It's important to figure out what you really want out of life.

Positive role models

Lesh starts out his sophomore year of high school grounded for two weeks for getting drunk at a concert. He mostly leaves that behavior behind when his curiosity about the world around him is awakened. Svetlana, a senior, is smart, artistically talented, super crafty, and has healthy self-esteem. Both sets of parents are involved and loving, although their drinking (mostly beer) is frequently mentioned. Lesh and Svetlana's friends are loyal and supportive. The one or two teachers specifically shown model getting the students to think for themselves in a supportive environment.

Violence

Blood from a head injury after an accident is mentioned once, and there's one scuffle that includes a blow to the stomach. In the fantasy world of an online game, some battle and combat violence is described, including blows with weapons such as swords and arrows, but there's no gore.

Sex

There are a couple of instances of heavy making out described in some detail but without mentioning body parts, and both instances are interrupted before anything goes beyond some petting. "Getting head" is mentioned once. A fantasy character's bouncing breasts and "nice ass" are mentioned a few times. Fantasy characters kiss once. Lesh speculates that his friend uses his computer to watch pornography.

Language

A wide variety of profanity is used, most frequently "ass" and variations such as "asshat" over half a dozen times, and the author uses "weird-ass" in the acknowledgements. Used a few times each: "crap," "damn," "Goddamn," "douche," "fag," "faggot," "s--t," "POS," and "tits."  Once or twice each: "hell," "d--k," "pisse" (French for "piss"), "PITA," and "whore." "Butt" is used almost a dozen times. One character uses "gay" to describe something negatively two or three times.

Consumerism

Specific products mentioned once include Bic, Chuck Taylors, Coke, Facebook, KFC, Magic: The Gathering, Mountain Dew, Totino's, and Kohl's. Magazines mentioned once each are Metal Hammer, Decibel, ​and Kerrang, and the iPod and iPad are mentioned three times each. Bands, albums, and song titles are mentioned too many times to count, mostly to establish mood or character and mostly in the heavy metal genre. In the acknowledgements the author heartily endorses the Omaha band What Dwells Within and mentions its new name, A Sound in Sight. A minor character works at Target, and the store name is mentioned a half dozen times.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults and fantasy characters are mentioned drinking frequently, mostly beer. In the beginning, narrator Lesh is reeling drunk; the physical consequences are shown, and he's grounded for two weeks as punishment. A teen character reeks of alcohol. High school students are matter-of-fact about marijuana use: Lesh knows he'll "pretty much have to try pot one day" but isn't interested at present; and he gets a ride from seniors who smoke tobacco and marijuana in the car, which doesn't bother him. There's speculation about cooking meth, and "notorious potheads" are mentioned once. Two minor teen characters, neither of whom is particularly pleasant or sympathetic, are depicted smoking or smelling of smoke once or twice each.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Guy in Real Life is a sweet high school romance, with some fantasy elements related to role-playing games. There are a couple of instances of kissing and making out, and one teen experiments with alcohol and learns its pitfalls the hard way. There's some moderate profanity but also a main character who actively avoids it.

What's the story?

Lesh is a sophomore, dresses in black, and listens to heavy metal. Svetlana's a senior, wears long, flowing skirts, and listens to anything from Bjork to Berlioz. He starts getting into online RPGs, and she's a Dungeon Master in the school's table-games club. Thrown together with the worst (earliest) lunch schedule, they get to know each other and realize people are more than what they show to the world. After they discover their common interest in fantasy gaming, Lesh tries to blend his budding attraction to Svetlana with an online character. But things quickly get out of hand, and, when the truth comes out, Lesh may have lost Svetlana for good.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

GUY IN REAL LIFE accomplishes a lot in the guise of a teen romance. It's a heart-meltingly adorable look at first love, sure, but it's also an intriguing exploration of how to figure out your identity and show it to the world. It points out gender bias and double standards and enters fantasy realms where monsters are slain and heroes are made. Seamlessly weaving these elements together are the rock-solid narrative voices of two very different, and very believable, teen characters; kids will easily relate to Lesh and Svetlana as they take turns telling the story. Getting inside both of their heads shows us that people are more than what meets the eye.

Kids who don't like fantasy may feel the fantasy passages bog the whole thing down, but try not to skim those sections: They're a big part of how the characters learn who they are -- and who the world thinks they are -- and why or whether that matters.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about combining fantasy and real life. Why do you think the author included the fantasy parts? Which parts do you like better, or do you like them both?

  • Did you like Lesh's final answer to the question of what he wants? Why, or why not? How would you answer that question?

  • Is it OK for girls to play online as male characters and for guys to play as females? What about in table games? Is there a difference when it's online or IRL?

Book details

Author:Steve Brezenoff
Genre:Romance
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Great girl role models, High school, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Balzer + Bray
Publication date:May 27, 2014
Number of pages:400
Publisher's recommended age(s):14 - 17
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of Guy in Real Life was written by

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  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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