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Ready Player One

Has anyone else read this yet? By Ernest Cline, Ready Player One  is set in the near  future (2044) when the world has gone mostly to shit and people spend as much time as they can in The Oasis, an enormous  virtual reality universe. The enormously wealthy creator of Oasis–the most valuable property on the planet–has died, and his will leaves the whole shebang to whoever can find the Easter egg hidden somewhere inside the OASIS program. Our hero, eighteen-year-old Wade (screen name Parzival), is determined to be the winner. It’s tons of fun, a real page-turner.

But I have to admit that the whole time I was reading it I felt, this is a kids’ book, and not in a good way. The first-person narrative is completely straightforward, reliable, and chronological; the prose seems to be at a fourth-grade reading level; there is no nuance or ambiguity in the characters. It’s far more cheerful and far less subtle than any current science fiction published for teens. Honestly, I felt like I was back with Danny Dunn, good times indeed.

Why was it was published as an adult book? Yes, yes, labels are for clothes or however that slogan went, but had I gone into it thinking it was a children’s book (and even with a scant mention of masturbation, it feels younger than most of today’s YA) I would have thought it was solid reluctant-reader (by which we mean boy-reader) fare. But as an adult book, it seems kind of dopey. But shouldn’t I find it dopey either way?


Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Andrew Karre says:

    I haven’t read it but I felt like it was ubiquitous on BoingBoing for a while a couple months ago. Cory D. was not, if I recall, calling it out as kidlit, but I might be mistaken.

  2. Guess what? We tried hard to buy that book at Egmont–we thought boys and teen boys would love it. I agree it’s simply written, but like you, I think it’s a ton of fun. We were outbid by Crown, obviously, and I think they’re right that there will be a big audience of adult gamers, comic con types etc who will enjoy the book– I mean, couldn’t you say this is a book for everyone who liked The Matrix or spent years of their life playing World of Warcraft? There are plenty of adults in that category. Egmont would have done a great job of reaching teen and boy readers with the book, and we had a plan to go after the adult reader in a big way, too. But you can make the argument (not that I agree with it) that kids and teens will happily read adult books, but that most adults won’t read “down.” And that there are more adults on the planet reading and buying books than teenagers. So, the argument goes, an author will get a bigger readership if he chooses the adult publisher over a YA one.

    I’m curious—will kids and YA reviewers understand this book better than adult reviewers? Because that’s kind of what you’re implying—that adult reader you sees no depth, but children’s reviewer you appreciates what this book does. Interesting.

    Finally, you may be interested to know that we’re seeing this more often these days: YA and Adult publishers competing for the same titles. We also offered for rights on a terrific novel called Mice by Gordon Reece. It’s narrated by a teenage girl, who at the beginning of the story experiences harrowing school bullying, and I thought it was a wonderful YA thriller. But the book came out in August from Viking Adult and you’d never know from the jacket that a teen audience was thought of. I wonder if anyone who reads it will think “I wonder why this wasn’t a YA?”

  3. I had a conversation with my widely-read 16 year old niece about Ready Player One over the weekend. She thought it was a “zippy” read and an interesting idea, but she also thought the 80s pop culture references were too much trouble to look up on youtube and not very funny when you did find them–except for the hair which was hilarious.

    More interesting to me, she said, “if it were really a kid’s book the main character would be saving the world by doing something spectacularly brave and personally edifying, but he only wants to save himself by getting rich which is a grown up plot and not very satisfying to me.”

    Her conclusion: it’s a dad’s book pretending to be a kid’s book. I might not finish it because I just don’t care if that kid gets rich or not.

    It’s just one teens opinion. Perhaps a reluctant reader would feel differently. And perhaps if it had been edited with a view to teen readers the 80s pop culture references would be made more accessible, and the arc of the plot nudged in a more edifying direction.

    I haven’t read the book myself, so I don’t have an observation to add beyond a general one that avid readers over 14 tend to make little distinction between YA and adult books.

  4. Roger Sutton says:

    Rosanne, I think maybe your niece didn’t get very far. Wade is of course entranced by the thought of the money but very soon realizes that what’s really at stake is the soul of OASIS: what if the corporate henchmen bad guys find the egg before he (or one of the other good guys/gals) does?

    Elizabeth, I hope you would have excised the literal deus ex machina who shows up to resolve the story. Painfully amateurish.

  5. Betty Carter says:

    This was a hit as a beach book with one junior high kid at our place and one high school sophomore. Both kids were with their grandparents, and there was much conversation about the “dinosaur” (as the high school sophomore put it) culture. It was a fast read, and a nice diversion for summertime reading. And that’s where I think it resides, for both kids and adults.

  6. I don’t think my niece finished it either. It will be interesting to see if she changes her mind at the end. I was intrigued that she associated more shallow themes with adult writing. I’ll have to think about what books might persuade her otherwise.

    Her description of Ready Player One made me think of another book I read this month that was published as an adult title but could just as easily have been a YA book, Robopocolypse. It had a more complicated narrative structure but the prose was clean and easy to read. The pacing, action, techno-geek details, and intrepid band of outsiders who save the world all seemed very much like a teen book to me.

  7. I just finished the book myself, and I have to agree with you, Roger, the entire time I was reading, I kept thinking “This is marketed towards adults? Really?” It felt totally and completely like a YA novel, from the character’s voice to the love story, all the way to the epic but happy ending. About the only aspect of the book that said “Adult” to me was all the references to 80s cult and pop culture, but it gave the book a quirky vibe I could totally see my teen patrons relating to (I’m a librarian). I think most of my adult patrons will pass this book by, or read it and be disappointed, because it is a rather lighter read than what they might be expecting.

  8. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    But what does it say about us, Heather, that we think “lighter” means YA? Especially when the YA dystopias are so much darker and denser than this book. I always hate when PW or the NYT says something like “the otherwise compelling novel wanders into YA territory when . . .” as a slam, but I feel like I’m doing the same thing myself here!

  9. It is a very interesting problem! I’ve never tended to think of YA as being particuliarly lighter than adult fare, but rather thought of YA as YA in a large part because of the characters, both in the way they think and act- its a certain, hard to define “feel.”

    Yet, as I think about it, I think the reason I had such a strong, misplaced reaction to Ready Player One is in part of the way the book was marketed to me, as an adult. What I had read beforehand implied that the book was a darkly satrical look at the world at a large, cunningly shown thru the lense of a massive online world. What I read, though, was a delightfully charming romp through pop culture, filled with playful nods to movies, games, and literature, and what satire was present was tongue-in-cheek, with a wink and a nod. It was a tone I normally encountered in YA, and not so much in Adult fiction (which so often wants to be serious, even in its humor, and frequently lacks that bright, joyful tone), but I wonder if the marketing had been different when I first encountered it, if my reaction would have been as strong.

  10. The Schaef says:

    I actually just finished this book on audio, and a reading by Wil Wheaton puts a lot of charm back into the book, especially for someone who was a child of the 80s; I would be only a couple of years younger than fictional magnate James Halliday.

    Here’s the problem, though: the book I “read” just before that was Childhood’s End, and the one immediately after (which I am just now finishing) is The Mote in God’s Eye. Lighter variations on dystopic futuristic science fiction seem well enough when they’re wrapped in nostalgia, and Cline definitely got me smiling on that front. But put right up against the likes of Clarke and Pournelle, really takes a lot of the shine off the novelty of the book.

    I think the main failing of the book is the first-person perspective; the prose of the book is dictated by the young age and lack of formal education on Parzival’s part. In that context the language makes sense, but it also detracts from the severity of the grim reality he tries to escape within the Oasis. Things are described but they have no weight; word pictures are painted but the work is not deeply artistic. Compare that with Ender’s Game, where the protagonist and all his classmates are no more than 12, 13, years old by the end of the story, and who are not given dialogue much above their “pay grade”, but a third-person telling allows the child his voice while framing the story in an adult setting.

    Overall I liked the story, and was glad to have heard the one book but it doesn’t make me itch for more by the same author, whereas all the other works I mentioned had me scrambling to see if the authors had written other books in the same “universe” as those.

  11. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    The Schaef, you are making me think of the cart of review submissions I went through yesterday, chock full of first-person genre YA. I wish I were as generous as you in making excuses for the linguistic poverty of too many first-person books. If only every YA editor sent back first-person manuscripts with the instruction to turn them into third; the exercise might make both parties think twice!

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