Plot Summary: In 2044, the environmental crisis facing America was never resolved. Unemployment has run rampant through the United States. Many Americans live in trailer park “stacks” – trailers stacked in towers; many citizens work and attend school virtually in a massively multiplayer online role playing environment called the OASIS.
Created by James Halliday and Ogden Morrow – a duo reminiscent of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – the OASIS is heavily influenced by the 1970s and ’80s, reflecting Halliday’s and Morrow’s pop culture obsessions. When Halliday dies, a message goes out to all OASIS subscribers where he reveals that he has left a final game with an Easter egg – a hidden message – hidden in the OASIS; whoever finds it will inherit his fortune, including a controlling share in his company, Gregarious Simulation Systems (GSS). Egg hunters, or “gunters”, spring up all over the world to take on the quest, but five years after this death, no one has claimed the prize. Enter Wade Watts, screen name Parzival, a high school teenager obsessed with Halliday, the ’80s, and the quest. He manages to find the first gateway, which kicks the race into high gear. The only problem is, others are on his tail, including the villainous Innovative Online Industries (IOI), who want to win the prize in order to charge users for access to the OASIS. Parzival will need help from his friends, Aech (pronounced “haych”), Art3mis, and brothers Daito and Shoto, if he is to succeed – but there can only be on winner.
Critical Evaluation: Loaded with ’80s pop culture references, this is a great adult crossover book for teens. The MMORPG environment will resonate with teen audiences, and the sprinkled ’80s references will bridge the gap between adult readers and teens, particularly in terms of video games, which many may have heard their parents talk about. The writing is fast-paced and fun, with even the darker elements of the book movign along quickly and propelling the plot forward. The character development is only deep enough to continue moving the plot forward, with Wade and Halliday receiving the most character development. The other characters are, for most of the novel, virtual and unknown, only revealed toward the end. Readers will keep turning pages and possibly even check out some of the books, television shows, and video games that the author references.
Reviews: Entertainment Weekly: “Triggers memories and emotions embedded in the psyche of a generation…[Cline crafts] a fresh and imaginative world from our old toy box, and finds significance in there among the collectibles.
Boston Globe: “A most excellent ride…the conceit is a smart one, and we happily root for [the heroes] on their quest…fully satisfying.”
USA Today: “Enchanting…Willy Wonka meets the Matrix.”
NPR.org: “Ridiculously fun and large-hearted, and you don’t have to remember the Reagan administration to love it…[Cline] takes a far-out premise and engages the reader instantly…You’ll wish you could make it go on and on.”
Awards: American Library Association Alex Award (2012).
Reader’s Annotation: A hidden Easter egg. An online video game. A battle between good and evil ensues – but in an infinite virtual world, the egg could be anywhere.
Author Information: Author Ernest Cline created the Star Wars fan movie, Fanboys. His author website offers links to his blog, information about his books, his movies, and his spoken words books. The Ready Player One website features a RP1 video games, links to social media, and news.
Genre: Fantasy. Subgenres: adult crossover, dystopian, friendship, cyberpunk
Booktalking Ideas: Parzival lives in a time when people interact almost entirely online. Do you think we are heading that way as a society? Can you think of pluses and minuses to that kind of society? Would you prefer to go to school in an online world, or do you prefer seeing and interacting with your friends face to face?
Reading Level/Interest Age: 14+.
Challenge Issues/Defense: Implied violence. Defense: The violence mainly takes place in a video game; the real-world violence in the book is perpetrated by the evil corporation that will stopp at nothing to take over the game and the world.
Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?
I had seen this on the Alex Awards list, and the description begged for me to read it. As someone who was also a teen in the ’80s, this book was one big happy trip back through time, and it gave me a lot to share with my own children.