What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that, though this book is aimed at middle elementary readers and is mostly lighthearted, it touches on some serious topics, including the first Gulf War, families in crisis, and inner-city street life.
What's the story?
Johnny is playing a pirated copy of the new video game, Only You Can Save Mankind, when suddenly a message appears on the screen -- \"We wish to talk.\" These aliens don't want to fight, they want to surrender and be granted safe conduct back to their home world. But that's not how the game is supposed to work, right?
Soon Johnny is entering the game in his dreams, and his actions are affecting all of the other copies of the game all over the world. Johnny finds himself responsible for a fleet of alien ships while gamers all over earth try to destroy them. Meanwhile Johnny's family is breaking up, his friend is in serious trouble, and Gulf War I rages on the TV set. The TV war seems like a video game, while the game is becoming increasingly real. But if the aliens really exist, does Johnny want that kind of responsibility if they are?
Is it any good?
While quite a bit simpler, preachier, and less clever than his other work for children, the plot is so gripping, and the book raises so many fascinating questions and issues that it is worth reading, especially for literature circles and discussion groups. Johnny and his friends, Wobbler the hacker and Bigmac, who leads a very different life at home than at school, are compelling, if not very fleshed-out, characters. And Pratchett's trademark humor is here, even if it is a bit muffled.
In addition to the major themes, Pratchett touches on a number of serious side topics, such as inner city violence and divorce, but then seems to drop them again. Perhaps they will be important to other entries in this series, but here they seem a bit gratuitous and out of place, as if the author wasn't quite sure where he wanted to go. But none of this quibbling will stop kids from enjoying the story, and the odd plot flaws may even be grist for more group discussions.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about issues like war, reality, what makes us human, gender roles, and lots more. Today's kids may need some background about the first Gulf War and the way it appeared on television.