Monday, February 8, 2021

Review: Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

Game Changer
By Neal Shusterman
Quill Tree Books
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Publication Date: February 9, 2021

To Sum It Up: Ash Bowman is a high school football player with a seemingly normal life until a hard hit during a game leaves him with the feeling that things aren’t quite right—and they aren’t. Ash, however, appears to be the only person who fully realizes that the world has changed, and not necessarily for the better. Whatever is happening around him also awakens Ash to the fact that he truly hasn’t been seeing what life is like for people who aren’t as privileged as he is. As the world continues to shift, Ash discovers that he may be able to bring about positive change, but even the smallest slip could create a new, bleak reality that is permanent.

Review: Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe trilogy blew me away with its unique premise and brilliant writing, and so I was thrilled to dive into his newest release, Game Changer. One of my favorite things about the Arc of a Scythe series was its deft, multilayered storytelling, and Shusterman doesn’t disappoint in that department here with Game Changer.

At first Game Changer appears to be a novel about an archetypal All-American high school football player named Ash Bowman. But when Ash takes a particularly hard hit on a play during a game, it literally shakes his entire world. Blue stop signs are now the norm. Ash knows something is amiss, but most of his family and friends do not. As he maneuvers this seemingly new world, Ash begins to discover that blue stop signs are the least alarming aspect.

Finding out the impact of that single event during the football game as Ash does makes for compelling reading. What exactly is going here to cause these shifts in the world? The answer involves a sci-fi twist that I thought was well done, and I’m not much of a sci-fi reader. This book reminded me a bit of David Levithan’s excellent Every Day. As he did with Arc of a Scythe, Shusterman is so great at immersing you in a world that, sometimes very eerily, isn’t too farfetched from what we know.

The heart of this book, though, lies in its timely exploration of some of the most pressing social issues we face, including racism, homophobia, and sexism. At the beginning of the novel, the extent of Ash’s social awareness is his diverse circle of friends. As he finds himself thrown into alternate universes, his white, heterosexual male privilege becomes more and more glaringly apparent to him.

While some readers may feel that the novel tries to take on too many weighty topics at once, and granted, each of them individually could absolutely be the subject of their own book, for me the takeaway here was the overall development of Ash’s realization of just how privileged and comfortable his life was back in his original world. And although his attempts to effect sweeping change and correct the injustices he can now see more clearly are sincere, they can come off seeming a bit of a simplistic approach to extremely complex problems. On the whole, though, this is a thought-provoking read that challenges how we often view the world only through the lens of our own experiences and demonstrates the need to continue the work of truly seeing and listening to the multitude of perspectives that exist.

All in All: This is the fourth Neal Shusterman book that I’ve read, and I love how he blends an impactful look at societal issues with a sci-fi/alternate universe twist. I find that his books leave me thinking about them for some time after I’ve read the last page, and Game Changer will definitely be staying with me for a while.