Playing Tyler, by T.L. Costa

  • TITLE: Playing Tyler
  • AUTHOR: T.L. Costa
  • PUBLISHER: Strange Chemistry
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 4th July 2013
  • RATING: ★★★★★

PlayingTyler-144dpiPlaying Tyler, by T.L. Costa, is the second Strange Chemistry book I almost didn’t read—the first being Blackwood (and look how that turned out…!). I didn’t want to read it because of the cover: to me, the imagery was very WWII and I didn’t like that—at all.

I don’t like war themes and I certainly don’t like war themes in real life. (I have anxiety issues and stuff sticks with me; it’s a defence mechanism to turn off to anything too dark. Yes, yes. I’m a wuss. Deal with it.) Anyway: that’s why I didn’t want to read it, because the cover seemed to advertise a VERY DIFFERENT experience to what I now know is actually featured.

In fact, I loved this book. And I mean, crazy loved it. I still hate the cover (but it’s a very personal thing), and feel that I would not have read it had I read the cover blurb alone and not felt a sense of trust in Strange Chemistry that told me, “Go on; when have they got it wrong before?”

They haven’t, so I read it.

Playing Tyler is such an excellent book that it’s difficult to know where to begin: the deep plot, the real and natural romance, the expert way in which issues are handled?

Tyler is a teenager struggling with school due to his ADHD—which is expertly conveyed through the book, without undermining his natural intelligence whatsoever, and creating a dynamic narrative—and family issues. His brother is a drug addict in rehab and his mother is in a world of her own, busying herself with cases and court in lieu of facing up to her son’s addiction and her husband’s death.

But Tyler tries to hold her together—his brother, too. He has only one person he can rely on, Rick, from his flight program. If there’s one thing Tyler can do, it’s fly. Oh, and play video games. Crazy-good at gaming and having won at national level, Tyler escapes from life through flying and video games. It just so happens that it’s these two things, together, that make Tyler special in the eyes of Rick, who has bigger plans for him.

When Tyler is asked to test a new game, he jumps at the chance—especially when he finds out it is designed by supergamer Ani, who is even better than him. She’s also stunning and Tyler can’t stop thinking about her. But the rules of the contract with Rick’s company and the game testing say that there can be no contact, and that makes sense to neither of them.

But Ani’s not so sure she can afford to break the rules.

Rick might be all buddy-buddy with Tyler, but with Ani it’s all business—and his promise to hide what she’s done. Through the job designing the game she earned a place at Yale and her life is in front of her, not behind. Yet when Ani meets Tyler and the emails won’t stop—and he’s too sweet and honest to ignore—Ani decides to break Rick’s rules and see what happens. It’s not as though she’s cheating with disclosing information about the game or discussing the testing.

Then something happens that she can’t ignore and that Tyler wishes he could: something bad and something that threatens to involve more than just the two of them. After Tyler speaks to his brother and he gets agitated over what Tyler tells him, everything begins to shift in a very dangerous direction.

Before Tyler knows it, the game doesn’t feel like a game, even though he’s using controls and flying fake drones over programmed land. Nothing makes sense if he believes his brother’s suspicions—it’s too far-fetched and outlandish. Yet…it also rings true. But when Ani grows nervous too, Tyler begins to listen to those around him… but by then, it might be too late.

This book is too excellent for words. It’s always amazing to read a YA book with a male protagonist—even better when there’s a female alongside him. Whenever I read a book like this, with a guy in the lead, I half expect the emotional issues to be turned down from eleven to three. That doesn’t happen: this book is incredibly deep and touching and moving. The relationships ring so very true—especially that of Tyler and his brother.

Yet his mother isn’t left by the wayside on Tyler’s emotional map, either; she is included in his thoughts and emotions and actions and it only serves to strengthen everything about the story and the very tangled plot. There are moments of the story that are impossibly sad (like that one) and others that are raw and real, most of these occur with his brother.

Playing Tyler is an action-filled book, but don’t be misled by the cover: there’s no vast war or landscapes of death and destruction. It’s all computer-generated (or is it?) and everything takes place in the safety(?) of Tyler’s own life. It is so, so good and damn I wish there were more books like this; books that really get into the psyche of YA guys and make them just as emotional and vulnerable as girls. It’s reality and it’s nice to read. Furthermore, Ani is smart and fun and brilliant and next to Tyler, they make an excellent team. Their narratives throughout the book simply sing together.

Literally everything about this book is amazing. It is subtle science fiction that manages to press all the right buttons whilst maintaining a very complex story that is as shocking as it is thrilling. It is a page-turner and completely unputdownable. I inhaled this book, it was that good.

This is a book you have to read, because it doesn’t just hit the spot, it tap dances all over it.

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