TheBookSmugglers's Reviews > Invitation to the Game

Invitation to the Game by Monica Hughes
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Jan 18, 12

bookshelves: apocalypse-dystopia-keepers

Originally Reviewed on The Book Smugglers

Why did I read this book: This previously published early '90s book has been coming up in talks with other dystopian-minded bibliophiles (including the wonderful author Megan Crewe who mentioned the book as one of her favorite YA dystopians in this month's newsletter!), and when I learned that Simon & Schuster had recently republished the book, I knew I had to track it down and give it a shot. Although I must say, I think I prefer the totally rad 1990s cover to the bland reissued version. Look at that Virtual Reality madness! The colors! LIGHTNING!

Review:

In the year 2154, overcrowding is the world's biggest problem. For Lisse and her friends, graduating from their government sponsored school is a time of morbid dread, because even though she and her classmates have graduated with honors and have surpassed all expectation in their final exams, they are surplus population. With androids taking over tasks both menial and specialized, there isn't anything available for newly minted high school graduates - certainly not college, and no career prospects. When Lisse's graduation day comes around, she learns that her worst fear has come true with three brief sentences:
CONGRATULATIONS ON GRADUATING WITH HONORS!
ENJOY YOUR LEISURE YEARS!
USE THEM CREATIVELY.

With seven other friends, Lisse is driven to the City and dropped off in her "Designated Area". Given a monthly allowance by the government to cover shelter, food, and the bare necessities, Lisse and her friends decide to pool their knowledge and resources and try to make it, together, in this strange, terrifying new world, teeming with youthful unemployed with nothing but time on their hands. As the group becomes acclimated to their new surroundings, they learn about a mysterious diversion that promises riches and treasure. A diversion known, in whispered tones, as The Game.

A secret affair, The Game can be accessed by invitation only - and Lisse and her crew have just received their summons. The Game is an alternate reality like nothing like they have ever felt before, and Lisse and her friends become ever-deeper immersed in the experience, hungry for their next invitation. But what is The Game? What is its purpose? And why have Lisse and her friends been chosen?

Prior to last year, I had not heard of The Game (nor had I seen anything of its glorious 1991 original cover) - and you know, it's funny how you can tell the era a book was written in by the tropes present. Though it has been repackaged for the era of The Hunger Games, from the prose to the characterizations, the quick plotting to the tropes, this is very much an early '90s science fiction/dystopia. And you know what? Despite the lack of in-depth characterization or emotion, I liked it. I liked it a lot.

Easily, the strongest aspect of The Game lies with its overall conceptualization and its plot. Like an episode of The Twilight Zone, The Game relies on a strong central hook, the ensuing conflict, and a helluva twist at the end to tie it all together. I love the theme at the heart of the book and how oddly socially relevant it is today: there's the problem of unemployment, especially of intelligent, motivated, and educated youth who are unable to procure jobs by no real fault of their own as there simply aren't any jobs to be had. With robots able to do tasks faster and cheaper than the human populace (hello, outsourcing parallel), and the snide attitudes of the employed resenting the taxes they have to pay in order to keep the unemployed fed and housed (sound familiar?), it's almost eerie how much the issues in The Game mimic today's socio-economic issues. I loved that The Game's society is a true dystopia - on a superficial level, it's kind of a Utopia in that the populace need not work, their needs are generally catered for by the state and taxpayers. On a deeper level, the state controls the populace with Orwellian Thought Police, through limited means and absolute control of credits, communication and transportation, and of course through The eponymous Game itself. Also, I loved the "twist" that pulls the book together - thought-provoking and deeply rooted in full-blown SF territory, I was not expecting the final level of The Game, and I love the path down which Monica Hughes takes readers. (Sorry, can't say more for fear of spoilers! Suffice to say, it's good, dear readers. It is good.)

These praises said, I do feel like certain elements of the book were lacking - most importantly, the characterizations, especially that of our narrator Lisse. Utterly passive and strangely detached, there's a hollowness to Lisse's narrative that makes her seem like a passenger to her own story - we learn much more about the characters of Scylla or Katie, or even Alden than we do Lisse, who spends a lot of time sitting and watching, catching up when she falls behind, and playing peacekeeper. There's nothing really endearing or defining about Lisse as a character, which is a huge drawback to the novel.

From a writing perspective, my reaction to The Game is hard to scale. It's interesting to me because clearly, there's enough meat in The Game to protract the story across a trilogy of books spanning a thousand pages - yet this novel is a standalone that finishes the job in less than 200 pages. It's a kind of interesting examination of the YA market today versus what it used to be in the early '90s. So many of my favorite books as a tween and teen (hello, Christopher Pike!) were standalone novels very much like The Game - brilliant in concept, but perhaps less indulgent in the characterization and emotional explication. By the end of the book, too, there's a lot of telling and characters sitting around theorizing (thus explaining) their predicament in lieu of showing. Had Ms. Hughes been writing in today's market, I'm certain Lisse would be quite a different character, and The Game expanded over multiple volumes. I'm not sure which era is better for YA Speculative Fiction - but it's an interesting contrast, at the very least.

While I felt like this book could have used a lot of beefing up, particularly in the character department, for what it is - one of those glorious neon packaged books that you would devour in a bus ride as a tween reader (fellow nerds, you know what I'm talking about) - The Game completely succeeds. For anyone yearning for a kickback to nostalgic '80s/'90s style YA SF, this one's for you.
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