Sigh. I wanted to like this book a lot more. It mentions World of Warcraft which is my favorite MMO (even though I don’t play it anymore :P), and the blurb on the front flap of the book also sounded promising. Alas.
This review will most likely contain spoilers. There are a few things in terms of the plot that I don’t think I can convey properly without a spoiler warning. Please be aware as you continue. While this isn’t a spoiler, there is some misgendering and deadnaming, which, I believe, doesn’t do the trans community any justice. I can’t speak for the LGBTQIA+ rep in the book, so if I say something wrong, please correct me. 🙂
Title: Looking for Group
Author: Rory Harrison
Release date: April 25, 2017
Genre: Young adult, contemporary, romance
Length: 368 pages (U.S. hardcover)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) “Looking for group for the quest of a lifetime.
Dylan doesn’t have a lot of experience with comfort. His room in the falling-down Village Estates can generously be categorized as “squalid,” and he sure as hell isn’t getting any love from his mother, who seemed to—no, definitely did—enjoy the perks that went along with being the parent of a “cancer kid.”
Now that Dylan’s suddenly in remission, all he’s left with is a lingering OxyContin addiction and a hunger for something—anything—but the life he’s known.
His only escape has been in the form of his favorite video game—World of Warcraft—and the one true friend who makes him feel understood, even if it’s just online. Dylan met Arden playing Warcraft, and now he wants to take her on a real mission, one he never thought he’d live to set out on: a journey to a mysterious ship in the middle of the Salton Sea.
But Arden is fighting her own battles, ones that Dylan can’t always help her win. As they navigate their way west, they grapple with Arden’s father (who refuses to recognize his daughter’s true gender), Dylan’s addiction, and the messy, complicated romance fighting so hard to blossom through the cracks of their battle-hardened hearts.”
Well, I went into this thinking it was would be absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, I was incredibly let down. 😦 The plot itself is pretty good, two friends who become something more on a mission, but I soon found the writing and the format didn’t do anything for the story.
What I did enjoy were the references to World of Warcraft. While I haven’t played in years, some of the general situations (like the Barrens chat and the class characters) I remembered quite easily. I could definitely relate to Dylan using the game as an escape from his life. He’s in remission but has an addition to one of the drugs. He lives in a very run-down apartment in a rough neighborhood, with a mom who at one point, preferred her son to die from the cancer rather than having to deal with him.
His mom is seriously one of the worst parents. She doesn’t get a lot of page time, and thank goodness, because then we meet Arden’s dad, whom Dylan refers to as Concrete Block. Arden’s dad does not accept his daughter’s true gender and constantly deadnames her.
At the same time, when Dylan and Arden go on their “quest”, there are situations that Dylan misgenders her in order to “protect her.” It happens twice, and both times we see Arden visibly upset, but it’s only after the second time that she corrects Dylan and tells him how it makes her feel. Dylan feels awkward, but he doesn’t do it again.
There is one particular things that confused me. Dylan is gay. He says that from the very beginning, but he falls very much in love with Arden, a trans woman. Yet because Arden’s dad does not accept his daughter’s gender and due to Dylan’s description of Arden and even Arden’s description of herself (over six feet tall, built like a rugby player), I wondered if maybe Dylan is bi but he doesn’t realize it yet. (If I remember correctly, he thinks about this briefly, too.)
There was one person who accepted Arden and that’s her mom, but she isn’t really in the picture. Her mom fought her Arden and even offered to buy Arden hormone blockers. Unfortunately, Arden’s mom didn’t because her husband didn’t want her to. Ugh, whatever.
As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that Arden most likely has suicidal thoughts and possibly depression as well. This “quest” she has with Dylan helps her–helps them both, I think, although Dylan can’t help but compare his very poor lifestyle with Arden’s rich one. However, one of the worst parts in this book that I don’t think did Arden any justice was when Dylan listened to the voicemails her father left on her phone–messages where her dad continually deadnames her while Dylan forces her to listen even though she is quite obviously distressed because of it. In the end, her dad does use his daughter’s true name, Arden, and for some reason, that makes Arden want to return.
And what does she do? She leaves Dylan with a bunch of money which he lives off of for a few weeks. He doesn’t want to return home, and it’s made quite clear in the book that his mom doesn’t really want him to come home either. She really uses him for his pills (which he later disposes) and the “sympathy points” it draws from those who know Dylan’s medical story.
Overall, I was left very unsatisfied and a bit uncomfortable. Like I said earlier, I can’t speak for the rep in the book, but I personally don’t believe it was written well. I can appreciate the rep, but still have problems with it. Arden appeared comfortable in her skin, even though she had problems with her dad. I can hope that their relationship improved because he finally acknowledged his daughter, but who knows?