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Playing Tyler

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When is a game not a game?

Tyler MacCandless can’t focus, even when he takes his medication. He can’t focus on school, on his future, on a book, on much of anything other than taking care of his older brother, Brandon, who’s in rehab for heroin abuse… again.

Tyler’s dad is dead and his mom has mentally checked out. The only person he can really count on is his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor, Rick. The one thing in life it seems he doesn’t suck at is playing video games and, well, thats probably not going to get him into college.

Just when it seems like his future is on a collision course with a life sentence at McDonald’s, Rick asks him to test a video game. If his score’s high enough, it could earn him a place in flight school and win him the future he was certain that he could never have. And when he falls in love with the game’s designer, the legendary gamer Ani, Tyler thinks his life might finally be turning around.

That is, until Brandon goes MIA from rehab and Tyler and Ani discover that the game is more than it seems. Now Tyler will have to figure out what’s really going on in time to save his brother… and prevent his own future from going down in flames.

304 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2013

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T.L. Costa

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 108 reviews
Profile Image for Greg.
1,107 reviews1,828 followers
October 14, 2013
This a story about an kind of ADHD who is a great at video games and get's recruited to beta test a new piece of hardware being developed by a subsidiary of a Blackwater type corporation.

You know this isn't going to go well.

The software in the hardware was developed by a gaming/hacker prodigy girl, whose now attending Yale at sixteen years old and has also developed some kind of massively popular game that people wiser than me into gaming might be able to tell if it's some shooter, Call of Duty type thing or a MMOG (true story, I'm now the overlord of the Fiction section in the bookstore I work in. Part of fiction is Science Fiction, and part of Science Fiction is Series Science Fiction which is where books written about video games and movie franchises are generally kept. A couple of weeks ago I found some titles mis-shelved in the M's of the section. I asked someone if he knew why they were there and he said he put it under MMOG, and I had to explain that MMOG wasn't the name of a game, but a type of game. He seemed happy to not have known that). She's also really hawt, but no one seems to notice that because she's 16 years old in college and people have always been intimidated by her mad gaming skills.

Guess what's gonna happen?

You're right. And as some other reviews point out there will be a possibly creepy amount of stalking involved to get there.

I kind of missed that part of the story, or I saw it but it didn't register. Maybe because I just felt like this was a foregone conclusion in the book and it wasn't something I was thinking about it (will they or won't they?)

It's not much of a secret, the cover of the book kind of gives it all away, but Tyler, the main character finds out that he's not been beta-testing a new flight simulator, but is instead flying Drone missions in Afghanistan. Killing bad guys, causing some collateral damage, possibly instigating some blowback.

There are also some other 'unintended' consequences of the missions he's flying.

Some ethical decisions have to be made all around. Ani (the girl) feels betrayed that her software is actually being used for drone technology. Tyler starts questioning the collateral costs of what he's doing, but he generally doesn't have a problem with flying drones.

If only it were just to kill bad guys.

Or maybe that's bad.

I liked the book well enough. It was a good quick read while I was just trying to kill some time waiting for Karen to get off work, or for the couple of hours I had in between an appointment and work.

There are elements of the book that I didn't care for too much, but I think they are more the sorts of things that the intended audience won't have problems with. Like subtleties in ethical arguments, the sort of weird ineffectiveness of the panopticon the characters mind themselves in, and certain elements that I felt were sort of unrealistic, but which would have made the story turn out to be the story about a couple of kids who question authority and are killed really quickly.

Oh, yeah I'm supposed to mention that I got this book for free, from either Netgalley, the publisher, author or through some other way that I get books to read before they are published. Apparently it's a federal law to mention this (for reals?) and not just a cheap reason to float the shit out of my reviews. I haven't been given any monies, nor have I been coerced in anyway to write the review you just read. Huzzah!
Profile Image for Faye, la Patata.
492 reviews2,110 followers
June 14, 2013
Read this and my other reviews at The Social Potato!

An ARC was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my thoughts in any way. Thank you so much, Strange Chemistry!

Disclaimer: This can get quite ranty. And spoiler-y. Read at your own risk

Mother of all migraines. If there's a book that pushed me to become an angry Hulk, it's this. Playing Tyler is definitely one of my biggest disappointments this year, as it was successful in making me rage, stomp the floor in frustration, and put down my kindle because my brain was having its own form of seizures. There are just no coherent ways of expressing my utter hatred for this book.UGH.

First, don't get me wrong. I didn't go into this book expecting to hate it. I'm not the kind who'd willingly punish herself to get a kick out of it. To make things straight, the synopsis of Playing Tyler absolutely captivated me in its web. I have this soft spot for stories that have "game" concepts but eventually turns out to be more than what it is. There's just something so exciting and bewitching about characters being so into something that initially looked innocent, only to feel betrayed later on when they find out about the horrible truth. Such a concept has potential to be an awesome and epic book, but Playing Tyler... did not play its cards well. There were just so many problems that I don't even know where to start.

The blurb is somewhat misleading. It gives us that thriller, fast-paced vibe of uncovering truths and conspiracies within corporates and governments, but the first 60% of the book is like... drama. A long-winded, dragging, soap opera that is just so cringe-worthy that the word "failure" doesn't even cover it. So there's Tyler, a teenage guy with ADHD who's apparently a legend in online games. OK. Fine. I'll go along with that. He gets invited to beta-test this new flight simulation game, and if he plays long enough, he'll be offered a place in an aviation school so he can fly for real. Ok. Fine. I'm still nodding here.

AND THEN... he meets the programmer, who turns out to be Ani, who's - dun dun dun duuuuuuun - also a legend in the online gaming world! And of course, Tyler goes, Ohhhemmmmgeeeeee a guuuuurl gaaaameerrrrrr OMFGHAXORZ!!! And it's not just any gurl-omg-gamer, it's THE gurl gamer, like, she was number 1 until I dethroned her!!!

This book made it seem like guuurrrrrrl gamers are sooooo rare and it's just so utterly unbelievable that they can be as good as guys, and as a gamer myself, I am deeply insulted. But that's not the focus here. It's the pointless drama-rama. So, ok. Upon recognizing the girl, Tyler's eyes immediately goes Ka-ching INSTALOVE! and he transforms into one creepy mofo stalker. NO JOKE. If you thought Edward Cullen was creepy, you haven't seen Tyler yet. He freaking adores and worships the girl, keeps on thinking how she's so cute and so awesome and so cute and so awesome and so so so cute, as if saying it a gazillion times just wasn't enough. I know he has ADHD, but it was just so tiring for me to see him repeat it over and over without commas and periods because authenticity, yo! Anyway. Right. He wanted to ask her out, to date her, to make her his girlfriend, but she made it clear from the very beginning that she doesn't want to. So you know what he does? He texts her. Over and over. He sends her an e-mail every day for WEEKS ON END. Pleading, wanting to know her, wanting to visit her, wanting her to visit him, etc. etc. OMFG. If I were Ani, I'd have run for the hills already!!!

But nooo... not Ani. Of course not. She eventually gives in, they gorge on pizzas, have a kiss outside (with Tyler describing his excitement of that kiss and the fact that he was kissed for a page or two), and they fall in love... and... there goes the first 60% ... -_- (It is at this point I'm internally screaming: "I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS!!!")

But even if the romance part was nonexistent, Tyler as a character was fucking annoying as hell. Whatever. Fuck you, Tyler. Fuck you.

Anyway... the prose is easy to read but it can be very very annoying in Tyler's POV. He has ADHD so he narrates with run-ons that are oftentimes lacking commas and periods. For authenticity I guess that works, but I just couldn't deal with it. It bothered me too much and it failed to connect to me. If it's full of I want to kiss her oh my god she's so cute and so pretty and so awesome look at those eyelashes she's really so cute ah I wanna kiss her so bad for half a page, then I'm sorry, it's not going to work with me. Nice try for that, though. Other people could probably appreciate them but count me out.

Why doesn't he care why doesn't he just now I need him why can't he see and now I'm going to fucking die and no one will be here to save him to care when he dies to cry when they put him in the ground and all I ever wanted to do in my life was see him get better and now we're both hit.


At the end of the day, I couldn't deal with Tyler and his endless focus on kisses and his cute girlfriend and their eyelashes that "go on forever" (x_x) and the overall execution of the plot. The pacing was just so off... if we go by content, it was more of a romance than anything else... a romance that was seriously badly developed and weird and disturbing. The real plot could've been good but Tyler and Ani, who has a pretty bland personality, were just too big epic failures I couldn't ignore. I wanted to love this, because that blurb is fucking perfect, but unfortunately, I've found too many problems and thus have to conclude this review by saying this gets nothing more than 1 STAR from me.

The Social Potato Reviews
Profile Image for Christopher  Nelson.
75 reviews4 followers
May 12, 2013
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened PLAYING TYLER by T L Costa. The vibrant elements of the cover alone were enough to make me stop and devour the details with dark intrigue.

And I was taken after the first paragraph, my life consigned to Tyler and Ani for the next fourteen hours. I could not put it down.

The voice of protagonist Tyler MacCandless is rendered in perfect ADHD, so much to the point that I found myself reading faster and pedaling my own foot with each moment spent with him. Tyler is the perfect teen hero, complete with foul mouth yet strong moral compass, the selfless pariah navigating through a collapsing world of selfish adults. And every moment is a whirlwind of screaming, random thoughts he must overcome just to get through a day.

Ani Bagdorian, the second voice of PLAYING TYLER, is just as conflicted, a sixteen-year old prodigy feeling her way through a similarly outcast life of being too young for her peer group at Yale University, too girl for her boy-dominated world as a champion gamer/ programmer, and suddenly dealing with the most complicated first romance she could possibly imagine. One that puts her on a jeopardy-scale that starts with academic stability but quickly slides to a threat far worse.

Without going into spoiler detail, PLAYING TYLER takes on very real issues that have come to the forefront in modern society thanks to multiple wars and unmanned war-fighting technology, as well as the demons of drug abuse and family disconnection. The themes of selfless service and staying true to oneself despite the odds drive the continually intensifying plot. Connecticut’s teenage setting comes to life thanks to inclusion of actual pop culture icons: anime interests, real video games, and movies. Finally, the teen dialogue is fresh and believable, as are the idiosyncrasies of military radio communications/ COIN Theater tactics, and a certain technical lean on programming expertise that seals the plausibility of PLAYING TYLER, sure to raise many a young hacker to an accord of head nods and Mountain Dew salutes.

T L Costa brings the intrigue of Tom Clancy, technical wizardry of Dan Brown, and the heartthrob of Stephanie Meyer to life in a voice that is entirely her own, one that speaks for the new generation of teenage survivors. A must read for YA and adult audiences alike, PLAYING TYLER is a story that will stay with you for a very long time.
Profile Image for Whitley Birks.
294 reviews355 followers
June 6, 2013
This review and others are on Whitley Reads

This book was provided free by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
I’m just going to get something out upfront. This book is pretty good at doing emotional responses. When it comes to family drama. There were a few points where I would get choked up even though I wasn’t agreeing with what was going on. And awkward teenage dating? Spot-on accurate.

Okay, we clear on that? The book did some stuff well? Got that out of the way? Good.

Everything else was shit.

A lot of what I disliked about this book was based on my politics, and if you disagree with me on those points, that’s fine. A lot people are going to, and more power to you. As long as you put a bit more thought into your position than this book did. This book is a hot mess of buzz-word issues that picked the easy answer, stopped thinking after that, and declared the other side to be evil. Then, apparently, it realized the other side wasn’t evil enough so it tacked on some more shit to make the main characters look better. Yeah, it was one of those books where the characters know someone is evil and then all the evidence comes out.

But let’s tackle all of this in order. First up. The pacing was horrible. The first half of the book was nothing but personal drama. Someone came and set up a supercomputer in Tyler’s bedroom, called it a simulator that he’s supposed to beta-test, and then he was barely on it until about the 60% mark. He didn’t quite ignore the thing, but the book sure as hell didn’t care. It was more interested in setting up romance.

And fuck that was a creepy romance. I mean, after it got going it was cute enough, but the set up? Tyler straight-up stalked the shit out of Ani for weeks. She gave him a very clear ‘no,’ but he decided that she was just so pretty and awesome that he had to have her, so he started emailing her on a daily basis. For WEEKS, even though she wasn’t giving him any replies. And the way he kept going on and on about her skin was just weird. It was like looking at the mind of demented serial killer. I thought he was going to try and peel her and wear her.

Tyler’s ADHD pissed me off to no end. This was yet another book that tried to push the whole “you don’t need you meds, just stop taking them, having ADHD is awesome” message. Sure, Tyler’s brain was able to handle the complexities of flying, but that’s not good enough. An ADHD brain that can read a dozen dials on a monitor is the same kind of brain that will glance over a flight plan, think it knows everything, and then barrel on. It’s the kind of brain that doesn’t do double-checks, gets distracted during safety briefings, and easily misses errors. Oh, yeah, and if you don’t fucking die from that, good luck reading through any employment contract or mortgage paperwork.

ADHD isn’t something to fuck around with, alright? It’s not awesome. It’s not a superpower. It’s not going to make your life better. It’s not “the next stage of evolution” as this book puts it. And for the love of god, stop telling impressionable teenagers that the councilors and psychiatrists are trying to hurt them. Because that’s exactly what this book ends up saying. Tyler doesn’t have any consequences from his ADHD. He’s all distracted a lot, but nothing bad happens while he’s distracted. About the only actual impact his ADHD has on the book is that most of his narration is done in run-ons and sentence fragments.

Which, by the way? Terrible way to display that. Bad grammar is not a side-effect of ADHD.

And then there’s all the lines where Tyler thinks Ani is just so fucking special because apparently NO OTHER GIRL ON THE PLANET actually likes video games. Nope, just her. Every other girl is a faker trying to impress her boyfriend. NO OTHER FEMALE is capable of liking games just for the sake of liking them.

God, just fuck this book so hard.

And all of that is even before you get to the political stuff. Do you know what the message of this book is? War is bad. That’s it. No, wait, that’s not it. War is bad, but it’s okay for other people to do it, just so long as your own hands stay clean. That’s the only concern the kids have. That they, personally, don’t have to kill anyone. At the end of the day, when all their work is being spent on other people flying drones and killing people? Oh, yeah, that’s cool. That’s just fine and dandy, apparently.

The worst part is that there’s so much that could have been done here. I mean, Ani doesn’t have any room to be whining. She knew she was building government equipment. The fact that it went online a little early should not matter, because she knew it was going to be used on real drones eventually. I have no idea why she acted all shocked. But Tyler has some legit stuff to complain about. They tricked him into killing people. Even if you take a “few broken eggs to make an omelet” approach to war, I think we can all agree, you don’t trick people into killing. You give that shit to the people who know what they signed up for and actually signed up for it. But Tyler has no fucks to give over that, he’s just upset that people are dying.

Well, dumbshit, that does tend to happen in a war.

Actually, it’s kind of amazing how many actual issues this book brushes against and then ignores. There’s all sorts of stuff it could have discussed. But as soon as it found a real issue, it backed off again and said “ooooo, but they’re killing people and that’s bad!” Dafuq did you think was going on? You’re working for a military contracted; how did you not know that they kill people and then get paid for it?

And their ultimate answer was “don’t kill people.” Well, no, it was “you, Mr. Bad Guy, don’t kill people. The real military can keep doing that, though. That’s cool.” I just don’t even know. I just…ugh, what? Look, I’m all for not killing people. Not killing people is great. But you can’t just say “stop” and then pat yourself on the back. It’s more complicated than that.

And they come up against the idea of collateral damage and then back up from that, too. Their ultimate answer? “Don’t kill three innocent people, even though doing so could save thousands more.” Which, while I don’t agree with it, a lot of people do and it’s a valid position to take. But I swear, there’s a scene later on where Tyler thinks about those other thousand innocent people and he just sticks his fingers in his ears and sings “lalalalalalala.” This book does not have the metaphorical balls to tackle the issues it wants to be about. It dances around shit and gives easy answers and then ignores any complications.

And then they tried and pull the whole scandal angle, saying that what the company was doing was just soooo evil and they were going to take their intel to a reporter. What was the scandal? The locals they were providing protection for were also running drugs, and Tyler was all “OH NO, NOT DRUGS, THAT’S THE WORST THING EVER.” JFC, book, were you written in the 90s? If you take that shit to a news station, not only will they laugh you out the building for being behind the times, they’ll refuse to take your STOLEN TOP SECRET INFORMATION all for the sake of something that’s pretty much sanctioned. And I mean really, there’s nothing in this book that hasn’t been done legally already, except the tricking-people-into-fighting thing. I really don’t think that would warrant mid-day assassinations, especially since it’s probably buried in the fine print of all that paperwork you didn’t bother to read, Tyler.

…in fact, yeah, I think this book was written in the 90s. All the issues are a few decades old, and the fact that it’s all about drones didn’t really factor in. Drones were set dressing. They didn’t work into the morality questions.

One last parting shot: the whole premise doesn’t make sense. Why would you give real missions to someone who thinks it’s a game? Do you know what bored gamers do when they think everything isn’t real? They take pot-shots at the NPCs. So, yeah, give a bunch of teenage boys a “game” that’s boring as shit and expect that to work out. Brilliant.
Profile Image for D.G..
1,363 reviews343 followers
June 21, 2013
Check out this review and others at Badass Book Reviews

Playing Tyler vaguely reminded me of Ender's Game meets Ready Player One, but in the real world. I won’t tell you what I mean because I’ll give away the plot, but rest assured that this is a refreshing story with appealing characters, a very interesting premise and thought provoking questions about patriotism. This is a book that I think every teenager (and grown up) should read because it deals with important issues happening in the world today.

Tyler suffers from Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a disorder characterized by hyperactivity and impulsiveness. He’s having problems in school and at home. His older brother is in rehab and his mother is so damaged by her son’s addiction that Tyler has had to become the adult in the family. He’s a great kid, with a huge heart, understandably angry with his brother and mother but loving them all the same. Tyler hasn’t turned bitter even with all the horrible things that have happened to him.

The story is told from Tyler’s and Ani’s point of view. Tyler’s narrative is full of sentences that run into one another and jumbled thoughts, specially when he’s nervous. He gets distracted easily so even when he’s in grave danger, he notices irrelevant stuff like ugly vases or squishy couches. The author did an amazing job portraying the mind of a person with ADHD so the reader could understand his struggles.

The romance between Tyler and Ani was among the cutest I’ve seen in YA. They were just so insecure and their exchanges left me smiling like a dufus. I particularly laughed out loud at Tyler’s consternation after ordering a caramel macchiato on their first date:

"Oh shit. Girly. It’s girly, isn’t it? That much sugar, that much milk. Shit. I should have asked for just a black coffee. Black coffee is plain, manly. Tastes like piss. But manly."

While Tyler is pursuing Ani, he has to deal with his brother’s addiction and the discovery that the game is more than it seems. The second part of the book is more exciting with action packed scenes and terrible heartbreak. One particular part towards the end made me cry like a baby.

This story is particularly timely, becomes it refers to some of the issues we’ve seen in the news lately about spying, 21st century warfare, and whether patriotism can justify really heinous acts. Please don’t think that there is preaching or military bashing – on the contrary, Tyler is very patriotic and proud of his father’s service. But once he’s in the middle of a horrible situation, he has to decide for himself what is the right thing to do. I confess I understood little of this type of warfare and I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t been paying enough attention to fully understand what’s going on. Maybe out of cowardice or plain laziness, I’ve been trusting that our government is making the right decisions. But given that our military-industrial complex employs hundreds of thousands of people, including companies that are lining their pockets, how can we trust that every decision they make is right and not motivated by greed or power? Like President Eisenhower said: “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Playing Tyler reminded me to open my eyes and be more invested in the world at large. For that reason alone it will stay with me for a long time to come. I wholeheartedly recommend it!
260 reviews104 followers
February 21, 2016
I have absolutely no idea where or how to start this review, since T. L. Costa seems to have robbed me of my ability to think, so I'm just going to jump right in and say this book was wonderful. It completely took me by surprise. I looked at this and I thought videogames, which is fine, since I read Ready Player One and loved it, even though it was completely - completely - out of my comfort zone. Playing Tyler is not so far out, but enough that I was hoping this would work for me. And of course I had expectations. What I did not expect, however, was for this to be as deep and emotional and explorative as it was.

Tyler has ADHD and consequently has difficulty focusing on things. His only real strength is playing videogames, but he knows that this isn't exactly going to get him very far in life. As well as that worry he's got to look after his older brother Brandon, who once again is in rehab for taking heroin. When his mother's at home he's looking after her, too, since the death of Tyler's dad hit her hard. Things look up when Rick, his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor and the only person he can count on, provides him with a game to beta test. It's a flight simulation, one that would actually be used in training pilots if it works out. If he scores high enough, Tyler gets to go to flight school and possibly have a career doing the one thing in life he most wants to: flying. Then he meets Ani, the game's designer, and it seems like maybe his life won't be a disaster after all. But that's before he discovers that there's much more to the game than he first thought, and before his brother goes missing. Now it's not a question of what he's going to do with his future. It's a question of whether he's going to live that long at all.

I may as well say now, the writing style here is probably going to be very hit or miss, I think because it's specifically meant to show us Tyler's thoughts as a person with ADHD. For some it works and for others I know it doesn't. For me, it was brilliant. It allowed me to truly appreciate Tyler's difficulty with keeping a single, focused train of thought, and with actually being able to verbalise those thoughts. But even aside from that, he was an extremely tough and likeable character, and one I felt a lot of sympathy for. His mother, at the very least, is the one who is meant to be looking out for him, yet instead it's the other way around; it takes her far too long to realise where she should be focusing her attention. And as for Brandon, well, he was as much of a disappointment, if not more, and it was only towards the end that he decided to step up and do something for his brother - although I'm still not sure that it wasn't just a cop-out for him. There is a lot of focus on character and relationships in this book, making it one that actually brought out a lot of emotion in me. The only issue I had in this area was Tyler's reaction to Ani when he first met her: I got that she was someone he admired for her position in the gaming world, that she was someone who understood him and who he could communicate with relatively easily; I just think that it could have been taken a bit slower. But otherwise theirs was a sweet relationship.

Of course there was the videogame aspect as well, and all the technical details that brought. Costa brought alive an intriguing plotline, which would no doubt actually be something possible in real life, a scary thought when you discover the truth of the game. I appreciated the layers there were to it, so that when I thought I understood what was happening, other elements were added, and it was these that also reinforced a character issue and vice versa, making it all the more relevant to Tyler and therefore the reader. The full import of what the realities of the simulation meant was conveyed clearly, as was the danger that Tyler and Ani are in when they discover the truth. The last section of the book really emphasised this; it was the ending that was the most action-packed and had me absolutely refusing to put it down until I reached that last sentence. There was a lot of urgency and the pace quickened to fulfil that, and it really meant that this book ended on a superb note.

Playing Tyler was so much more than I expected. With only minor flaws, this was an absorbing read that realised both the need for plot and character investment. Going into this I truly had no idea that it would be so emotional and with such serious issues. I can see how this isn't for everyone, but I feel T. L. Costa has added something worthwhile to the YA market, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more work from her.

This review is also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for Waffles - Kelsey.
199 reviews53 followers
November 9, 2016
Playing Tyler has not come out yet, but I was approved of reading it a head of time using Netgalley.com. It is a great site that let's you read the books before they come out. As a Librarian this is a great advantage for me so when the books come into the Library, I am able to inform our patrons how good the book is and if it is worth reading :)!!!

You have ADHD. You can't sit through class. Your always fidgeting, always wanting to move. Don't like the pills for the pills always give you a weird feeling. So what do you do to pass the time of day?

Play games!!

As someone who has little ADD, games always seem to calm me down. I don't know what it is, but I relax when I'm playing any kind of game...mostly Call of Duty. I think mostly because my brain thinks so fast on things, and I'm always fidgety myself, being able to do ten things at once calms my mind. And that's Tyler MacCandless. A teenager who feels the love of every game for it keeps his mind active, and will try any kind of game.

Especially a game that is invented for the Air Force, and a game created by his huge time crush. And this is his one chance to get into Flying School he will do anything to get there. Even play a boring game.

Or is it JUST a game?

Follow Tyler and Ani through a whole new gaming world, fighting the Air Force, everything they believe in even family, deception and their attraction!!
Profile Image for Christian Schoon.
Author 2 books67 followers
April 10, 2013
T.L. Costa's Playing Tyler is a wickedly perceptive, powerhouse YA read from start to jacked-up-pulse-rate finish. Costa has gotten right on into the heads of her two teen protagonists and proceeds to take us for a street-level thrill-ride through their world of high-tech intrigue, computer-gaming-savvy and dark military-industrial espionage and treachery. The characters are cool, engaging and richly authentic, the plot is a deftly routed maze where trust is a lethal luxury and the romance is a perfectly choreographed dance of approach-avoidance, fight-or-flight impulses. Yeah, I kinda liked it. Massively. So... sequel, please?

Profile Image for A.G. Howard.
Author 20 books8,678 followers
May 11, 2013
This book's flawed and authentic MCs wrapped themselves around my heart and had me rooting for them from the get-go. Gamers will LOVE the twisty-techno rich plot, but you don't have to be a gamer to appreciate the genuine relationships and emotions between all of the characters. A must read for anyone who loves conspiracy theories, action with a side of romance, or voice and character driven contemporary YA.
Profile Image for Hannah.
48 reviews6 followers
May 26, 2013
I received a copy of this from netgalley in exchange for an honest review. So I won't lie.

I utterly, utterly loved this.

Tyler's voice in this is so distinctive. It would have been possible to tell who was telling their story (Ani or Tyler) without any of the chapter headings. There was no mistaking Tyler's speech patterns. I mean this in a good way. What was told from his perspective was often quite staccato - showing his ADHD - but then the sentences would become shorter, choppier as he became more stressed, or longer when he was focusing on something.

Ani isn't shortchanged in this either. She didn't feel like a token love interest. She had depth and backstory.

Their relationship was just adorable and awkward. And then even more adorable.

They are wonderful characters and the story is gripping. I'd definitely recommend people give it a go - if only to see how character voices should be done.

For a slightly more detailed review check out my blog.
Profile Image for Michael Underwood.
Author 37 books254 followers
April 22, 2013
The thing that struck me right away about Playing Tyler was the voice. Tyler MacCandless has ADHD, and the narration shows it, loud and clear. The narration is more choppy in places where Tyler is stressed or un-medicated, and becomes smoother when he is in control, at peace.

The plot focuses around Tyler’s work testing a new flight simulator, which he thinks will be his ticket into flight school and out of his dead-end life. But the’re a whole lot more going on than a fancy beta test.

One of my favorite parts about this novel was the romance between two l337 gamers who are outcasts in their own world but connect through their shared love of gaming.
1 review53 followers
April 9, 2013
Playing Tyler T.L. Costa captures the voice(s) of her two teen protagonists with pitch-perfect accuracy, and then layers these two real-as-they-come characters into a story crackling with emotional tension, highlighted by a totally authentic, deftly constructed romantic approach-avoidance dance powering a plot that dares the reader to guess which way the high-tech, vid-game-savvy intrigue will dodge-and-weave next. Playing Tyler is a superb read that any fan of tight-and-fast YA thrillers will want to dive into, the sooner the better.

Profile Image for AH.
2,005 reviews370 followers
June 29, 2013
Initial thoughts - Great debut book for author T.L. Costa. I loved her characters and the story, while a little predictable, kept me on the edge of my seat. Nicely done.

The Review

Playing Tyler by debut author T.L. Costa was a nice little surprise, a breath of fresh air among all the Young Adult novels available right now. The author captures all the insecurities, incoherent thoughts, and emotions of the main character so well. Compounded with the usual angst of being a teenager, Tyler also suffers from a learning disability as well as ADHD. The result is a realistic depiction of a character whose disjointed inner dialogue is not only entertaining, but authentic.

The story is told through alternating first person points of view. I love this method of storytelling – you really get to be inside the characters’ heads. Both characters play off of each other very well. First, there’s Tyler, who has difficulty focusing on his schoolwork. His mother doesn’t seem to be around much and when she is, she is usually inattentive. It’s really hard not to fall in love with the main character Tyler. He is, endearing. He has lofty goals – he wants to become a pilot, however his marks at school will not allow him to pursue that dream unless there’s a “backdoor.” Tyler’s mentor Rick offers him a chance to pilot a drone aircraft in a new video game.

Enter Ani. Ani is a 16 year old computer genius and a student on scholarship at Yale. Ani has designed the program that Tyler will be playing. Ani is a sweetheart and she’s also known as SlayerGrrl, an epic gamer who Tyler worships.

These two are so cute together. At first I couldn’t stop chuckling at both of their inner dialogues. So awkward! So sweet. At first they are not allowed to have any contact, but that quickly changes. All is not as it seems. Tyler has a brother who is fighting an addiction to drugs and his mother is dysfunctional. Ani has issues of her own. Then as Tyler makes a realization (sorry – I so saw that coming), the plot picks up and the pace is non-stop as Ani and Tyler need to get out of town, fast.

Ani and Tyler find themselves en route to Canada. I can’t even begin to imagine rowing across Lake Memphremagog in the summer, let alone in November. Very cold! Oh, and a shout out to Montreal, too – cool!

Playing Tyler is a wonderful debut novel that should appeal to both girls and boys from middle grades and higher. Oh, and adults who enjoy a young adult read will like this book too.

Highly recommended.

See DG’s excellent review on Badass Book Reviews.

Thank you to NetGalley and Strange Chemistry for a review copy of this book.

Profile Image for Leah.
408 reviews65 followers
June 2, 2013
This book was like nothing I expected! It was a whirlwind of events and I ate it up. I expected the book to be slightly sci-fi with the whole 'what if it's more than a game?' type of thing. I expected it to be sort of similar to Gibson's Neuromancer but I was so wrong. For that, I am so happy. It opened my eyes to a new genre and also surprised me in my way of thinking. Half way through the book, I looked up the author and discovered that she was female. Having read the back and roughly half of the book I found myself surprised. I'm really interested in gender and its stereotypes so this was really refreshing for me to discover that women are now writing books 'like this'. 'Like this' meaning military, hi-tech style. I loved it.

The characters developed within the book were amazing. I loved Taylor and felt genuine sadness and pain when he suffered during the book. He is a well developed character and someone that it is impossible not to sympathise with. His sufferings are so very real and Costa deals with issues which plague many families across the world. He has lost his father and his eldest brother is battling a drug addiction. His mother is mentally absent more often than not and Taylor is left to pick up the pieces. The game sent to him in which he will be acting as a military pilot seems like the perfect thing to distract him from what is happening in his day to day life.

I also absolutely loved Ani. She is a strong, feisty and very intelligent teenager who is currently studying at Yale university way ahead of her time. She is the creator of the program that Taylor is now testing. Contact between the pair is forbidden by her boss, Rick. Ani is an interesting and exciting figure. Similarly to Taylor, she has essentially lost her father to war as he came back with PTSD and is now in prison for assault. Despite this, she continues with her life although he misses her father each and every day. Not only does she protect herself, but she ensures that her programs are easily accessible to her at all times despite the threat of prison looming over her head thanks to Rick. I loved seeing her break the rules as her and Taylor get closer and many secrets are unveiled.

A book filled with so many twists and turns and excitement in every chapter, this is not a book to be missed. It features military action, blackmail, love and plenty of excitement to keep you turning the pages. I highly recommend this book to everyone!
Profile Image for karmaforlifechick.
122 reviews15 followers
August 9, 2013
Tyler is a teen boy who feels like he has to take care of his brother Brandon, who is in rehab again and his mother who can’t seem to move on since the death of his father and her son Brandon who does not seem to be able to kick his drug habit. Tyler spends his time gaming trying to escape reality and he is recruited by his mentor Rick to test out a new game and then he meets the game’s designer and falls for her. Then things start getting strange with the game and he can’t figure out what’s real…..
This writer totally captures the imagination of the gaming teen and their world. It was an exciting story and an absolute page turner. I could feel Tyler’s feeling of being overwhelmed with the stress of looking after his brother and mother. Sometimes I could feel his mental anguish having to deal with his ADHD which the author portraying very realistically like his rambling thoughts which would not stop and he could not stop it, but then he had so much to think about really. This is very modern day story with some twists which could make for a really good movie.
Profile Image for Gerri Brousseau.
Author 10 books29 followers
August 28, 2013
I loved this book. TL Costa really nailed it. Costa brought me right into the mind of a teen boy with ADHD, with the scattered though process and the inability to sit still. This is not to mention added factor of the emotions and insecurities of the teenaged male, and all this coupled with the video game! WOW. My son (now an adult) was (and still is) a real gamer. Costa must have a child who is, or must know one because she was right on the money. As I said, I loved this book and I'm looking forward to reading more from this author.
Profile Image for tee.
24 reviews10 followers
December 20, 2021

After having reflected more on this book, I changed my original rating to 2.5

The story first started strong for me, I was able to relate to him and found some of the scenes funny. Where I started taking off stars was when I realized that he is stalking and incessantly emailing the girl who he’s into.
- The first problem is that she made it clear that she wasn’t interested
- my second was how the author justified his actions by providing through ani’s point of view how
she actually found it endearing
- my third, even if she did find it endearing, Tyler didn’t know that. All he knew was that she
wasn’t answering his emails and that she was firm on the stance of having no contact.

Now moving onto the whole plot of this story.
- It felt very forced to me. The whole ‘It’s just a game’ made the outcome predictable. I glossed over
this thinking it was only because I’ve read enders game in the past, but I think despite that the
way in which it almost wedged into every other line it would have been clear

Now getting to the part where Tyler is now fully aware of what he is doing
- He seems totally fine?
- I also glossed over this thinking oh naw it’s just cuz of all the other crazy things happening. But
nope nope nope. I don’t care if you think you’re killing terrorists, it is still murder and it will
effect/traumatize you.
- his ignorance to the fact that drones kill civilians was also mind baffling. How are you not
aware of the statistics when this is what you want to do for a living. All I had to do was just pull
out google and take a look

The romance…
- I hated the scene where Tyler uses guilt as a tool to keep Ani with him. He keeps saying how he
doesn’t want to lose her too and when she tries to explain to him why she can’t be in this
situation he essentially shuts her up and says I don’t care just stay by my side “please”
- okay the phrase “please” she actually stays by his side and simply because he chooses to use to
phrase “please"

Okay and all the scenes of Tyler just sitting in front of the monitors…
- I was bored and uninterested and the way in which the author went into details about certain
things for only a couple pages in the whole book made it SO obvious that it’s real. I wish she
was just as specific with the rest of the scenes and had more of them so it was subtle.
- And yes I was bored, and mostly irritated listening to how bored Tyler was
- I felt the author miss an opportunity to really show rather than tell, because with ADHD
boredom can be extremely excruciating, and also how it effects daily life, not just school

I was full on invested in the characters but after the truth is revealed and the Tyler just kind of sits there and does nothing I started to grow disinterested and found it harder to really root for Tyler. I was more encouraging ani to stand up to Tyler which she did seem to do after a drawn out period of time.

Ani kind of developed this whole ‘i’m not like other girls’ complex as it’s emphasized how smart she is and how she can’t find any friends and how everyone else just parties and she just studies.
- I feel like a large number of students at Yale are more likely to be studying just like Ani is,
especially if they go to Yale since getting into a university like that takes a lot of work, and being
able to stay takes even more
- It seemed like the author was really pushing the narrative of how other women at the school are
all hoes but aNi, no she’s different because it’s not like any other girl at one of the top schools in
the country could be as studious as her
- I also didn’t like how it made women come across as the bad guys for their dating habits when the
author also made her stance on guys doing the same thing seem cool
- ani mentions how Tyler must have another girlfriend and how he was probably just flirting
with ani cuz he just gets all the girls and he’s so cool

I did however enjoy the plot twists at the ending and the chase/action scenes that we got. As much as I did see the main plot coming I did not expect the solution to it. So that was another aspect that i was able to enjoy. I do wish we got more of that.
Profile Image for Heather.
482 reviews45 followers
October 3, 2015
Characters- Tyler- I LOVED Tyler!! He has ADHD and his parts are written with run on sentences and with incomplete thoughts so that every time I read his thoughts I read them really fast like his brain was working. I liked the way TL Costa wrote his thoughts because it gives some insight into the way a person with ADHD thinks, how their brain functions. It's so different than what you imagine it to be. I have two sons with the disorder and I've never really understood how it felt. But reading Tyler's mind, I get it! But Tyler's personality is so great! He loves his brother who is in rehab. He worries about his mom who works too much. And he is immediately infatuated with Ani also known as SlayerGrrl. He's absolutely adorable with how his mind works when he thinks about Ani.

Ani/SlayerGrrl-Ani is a really young girl (16) at Yale who is a fish out of water. Though she's among other smart people, she sticks out being so young. She can't get into any of the under 21 clubs because you have to 18 so she's pretty isolated. She doesn't make friends easily. She is a master gamer, having even made her own online game that people loved and played including Tyler. But being an online gamer is a lonely life, being a winner and breaking records is even lonelier. Ani is likable and very easy to relate to if you've ever felt like a fish out of water.

The world- This is a contemporary so it's set in the real world but there is so world building with the gaming aspects of the novel. Honestly, I didn't care what the system looked like so I kind of skimmed that part but it is explained in detail if you know enough to picture what it looks like. I know X-Box and Wii. That's it.

The story- Tyler's family has suffered the loss of the dad/husband in a tragic way and Tyler's brother never quite recovered. He's in rehab and not doing well. Tyler has a lot of worries, his brother, his mom, school but one thing he doesn't have to worry about is his mentor Rick or as Ani knows him Mr. Anderson. They both know him so differently, Tyler knows him as a caring adult who is giving him a shot with a new video game and possibly a shot at aviation school. Tyler's dream is to fly. But Ani knows him as Mr. Anderson, her employer and the man that pays her way through Yale. A strict, no nonsense business man who had her design the video game that Tyler is testing and he has an even stricter policy of no contact between Ani and the gamers.

My thoughts- I was hooked from the first page. I love a guy's point of view, but reading Tyler's point of view was just amazing. My 13 yr old told me that was exactly how his mind worked, an alarming thing to know since he's medicated for his ADHD. Tyler's mind is like a whirling dervish and it makes for fascinating reading. Here's a little snippet from when Tyler first meets Ani/SlayerGirrl:
Dammit! That was so not suave. Tell her you know who she is. That you've always wanted to meet her, a girl who games to game, not to impress a boyfriend or because it sounds like something fun to do when stoned. A girl who designed a game so badass that supposedly people have actually died while playing it because they didn't want to walk away from the console. Quick. Now, Ty, witty, clever. "Your nose doesn't look so big in real life." Shit. Her eyes widen in surprise. Her cheeks turn bright red. Like neon red. Shit! "I mean, your profile picture is just awful."p.28
The story alternates between Tyler's point of view and Ani's. You won't have any trouble identifying which is which. Ani reads totally like the fish out of water that she is. She is totally overwhelmed. Yale, her responsibilites with the game, Mr. Anderson and Tyler.

I absolutely loved this novel. I'm a character girl for the seven hundredth time and these characters totally stole the story for me. I fell for Tyler right away and then Ani snuck in there and their story was addictive. I read it in one sitting. And my 13 yr old read it in two. I highly recommend this one for anyone that enjoys contemporary thrillers and romances. The characters do have some issues, but it only presents characters with issues. It isn't really an issue book at all so don't be turned off by that.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,004 reviews2,597 followers
June 4, 2013
From The BiblioSanctum.

My thanks to Netgalley and Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry for providing me with an e-ARC of Playing Tyler in exchange for an honest review. When I read the synopsis for this young adult novel, it was the video game angle that initially piqued my interest. Being an avid gamer myself, I was immediately drawn to the story.

It begins with just a typical day for 17-year-old Tyler MacCandless. Tyler has ADHD, but has long stopped taking his medication because his older brother Brandon kept stealing it before landing himself in rehab for drug abuse. School's a struggle when none of the other students or his teachers understand what's going on in his life. Tyler's father is dead and his mother isn't dealing too well with the problems at home, so the only person Tyler can turn to is Rick, his friend and mentor at the Civilian Air Patrol.

Tyler loves playing video games, so it was a dream come true one day when Rick asks him to beta test a new flight simulator, which may also be Tyler's chance to get into flight school if he scores well enough. Even better, the designer behind the game is teen prodigy Ani Bagdorian AKA Slayergrrl, legendary International League Gaming champion. It doesn't take long for the two of them to strike up a romantic relationship. However, just as Tyler think his life is finally on the right track, Brandon goes missing from rehab and it appears there is more to the simulator game than meets the eye.

Right away, I liked that this was a story about two teenagers who fall outside conventions when it comes to YA protagonists. Video gaming as a hobby is still often made a subject of ridicule in mainstream pop culture, with its enthusiasts portrayed as weirdos who don't get out much, which is why I love how the hero and heroine of this novel are both hardcore gamers. When you try to picture someone who is good enough to win championships at international gaming competitions, you don't typically think of a smart and beautiful 16-year-old female Yale student, which is why I think Ani is especially kick-ass.

Still, at first, I wasn't sure if I was going to get into this book. It begins with Tyler's perspective, whose ADHD made his narration a little confusing to follow, since the writing style is so abrupt to convey that his attention is all over the place. The positive side is that it's also very effective, because it made me feel like I'm actually inside his head. Tyler's sections do get a bit easier on the eyes after a while, once you start getting used to it. Ani's point-of-view, which alternates with Tyler's, also helped change things up a little and gave me the breaks I needed.

The story itself was a little predictable, perhaps, and yet still quite suspenseful, especially once you reach the final chapters. But one thing I wasn't a big fan of was the romance. I'm aware that having the element of a love story is a big thing and a wise decision in YA fiction these days, but quite honestly, I felt Playing Tyler could have been much stronger and better as a straight-up thriller suspense story.

Even just the gradual build-up of the relationship between Tyler and Ani would have been sufficient, without the first third of the novel devoted to getting them together. I felt that bogged down the beginning of the story somewhat, and that's really where I'm looking for a book to hook me and pick up momentum. Though, I do have to admit I found some of the awkward "first date" moments oddly enjoyable to read, especially with Tyler's penchant to say the wrong things at the wrong time. It was sort of funny and cute in its own way.

I would say this book would be perfect for its intended audience, which includes readers who like YA fiction as well as older teens, since it does contain mature themes and some instances of strong language. There's a good combination of thrills and intrigue, a very strong debut novel from a new author and an engaging read over all.
Profile Image for Dianne.
320 reviews154 followers
September 7, 2013
*Also posted at Oops! I Read A Book Again*

Thank you to Amanda of Strange Chemistry for the ARC! As always, everything in here would be my honest opinions.

I've always had a soft spot for novels with a protagonist who's diagnosed with a mental or psychological syndrome/illness. Some of those that I loved are Flowers of Algernon by Daniel Keyes and The Curious Incident of the Dog at the Night-time by Mark Haddon. I cried in the first and I related so much to the second. My younger brother is diagnosed with autism and verbal apraxia (finds it hard to speak - my brother, while being 13, still can't form and speak sentences). So I know how people look at them funny and I also know how supportive people who are actually in the know can be. I love my little brother, I really, really do and so I find myself having a weakness for these novels. While the protagonist in Playing Tyler has ADHD and dyslexia, which might not be as severe as autism or apraxia, he still felt close to my heart. Some reviews targeted at how unfocused he is but sigh, guys, he has ADHD after all. That's how it is. So enough with my personal preferences and let's get to the review!

Playing Tyler is told in both Tyler and Ani's perspectives but it was mostly narrated by Tyler. Tyler has ADHD but he's a whiz at video games. He dreams of going to flight school and becoming a pilot. His dad died and he only has his mom, who's physically there but not emotionally and mentally, and his brother, who's in rehab though for drug addiction. He's quite alone except for his gamer best friends in school and his mentor, Rick. Tyler looks up to Rick as if he's his father and in turn, Rick treats him like a son. He then enlists Tyler to try out the latest simulation game Ani, a programming genius, had developed for the company he works for.

He then meets Ani and develops a crush on her. Ani pushes him away at first because she shouldn't be talking to those who are beta-testing the game. But in the end, Tyler wears her out and they start bonding. I adore how awkward they were at first because they're both clueless on what to do with the budding attraction. Then they get to know each other and sparks definitely fly. The romance in here was palpable, cute and sweet even amidst the dangers in both of their lives.

While it was pretty obvious even from just the blurb what the deal is with the game, it took long for Tyler to realize what Rick was actually making him do. Which kind of made me impatient with it because I just wanted hell to break loose. But the romance did distract me from feeling frustrated and I immensely enjoyed Tyler and Ani's dates, conversations and interactions. So much so that when shit went down, they were already in it together.

This was a fast read, despite my initial apprehension to how the conflict didn't arise sooner. I guess Tyler's rapidfire thought process made for a speedy reading. The contrast betwen Tyler and Ani's point-of-views were very obvious, which I really like. When Tyler and Ani discover what's really going down in the game, everything flies by so fast with the schemes and plans and the missions. It was certainly exciting to see Tyler and Ani battle it out with their wits, bluffs and strategies with Rick.

For me, the defining moment of this novel was the show of the epic bond and love between Tyler and Brandon. Brotherhood isn't the focus of this novel but that scene definitely wrecked me. I BAWLED.

Told in dual perspectives successfully showcasing the personalities and thought processes of the main characters, Playing Tyler is a gritty and thrilling novel on how a game can be all too real. A wonderful debut novel from T.L. Costa! I will certainly read her next books!
Profile Image for Michelle.
Author 8 books10 followers
July 8, 2013
Playing Tyler by T. L. Costa follows Tyler MacCandless, ADHD gaming enthusiast and wanna be pilot, as he accidentally uncovers the conspiracy behind the game that his pilot mentor, Rick, is paying him to beta test. Considering the title and tagline of the book, it is not much of a surprise that the game is more than just a game. The text does not confirm this immediately, but we get plenty of hints and a buildup of dramatic irony. When Tyler and Ani discover this conspiracy, we are treated to a few smart explorations of morality through their dialog before their untenable situation explodes into life-and-death action complete with chase scenes.

Playing Tyler is a fun, fast-paced read with plenty of action and just enough near-future realism. I generally prefer my science fiction to involve technology that's a little more ahead of our time, and so I was surprised when Tyler's story stole my heart with its close-to-home descriptions of heroin addiction, ADHD, and depression. Tyler's family has a well-woven back story that places a lot of pressure on Tyler separate from the main plot, in a “real life doesn't stop” fashion that keeps Tyler juggling his priorities. I especially appreciate the fact that messed up lives do not necessarily make for messed up characters, and messed up characters are not necessarily devoid of virtue. Tyler, in particular, comes from a troubled background and lives with severe, untreated ADHD, yet proves to be a capable hero.

Speaking of which – Tyler's ADHD POV is one of my favorite aspects of the book. T. L. Costa's incorporation of ADHD-type thought process and behavior into Tyler's POV makes for a sympathetic, compelling read. Tyler relates to the world differently, and it certainly causes him difficulties at school, but it does not cause him to crash and burn.

Another big part of the book is the love story between Tyler and Ani Bagdorian, who created the game that Tyler is testing but is unaware of its secret implementation. When Tyler and Ani first meet, they are told by the game developers that they cannot talk to each other ever again. Ani attempts to honor this part of her contract, but eventually gives in to Tyler's incessant emails and her initial good impression of Tyler. Tyler's pursuit of her is a bit, well, stalker-like, because he keeps sending her messages even after she has declined his interest. However, since we are privy to Tyler's POV, we know that he is not a dangerous Bad Boy stereotype and his behavior stems from being lonely and head-strong. While I don't recommend answering obsessive emails from, well, any one, I can forgive this part of the plot because Ani's decision to contact Tyler is partly based on her moral objection to her company's rule. From there, their romance progresses normally, almost behind-the-scenes, allowing the conspiracy conflict to take the stage.

At first it appears as if Ani is a second main character, but as most of the other characters are related to Tyler and Ani's only initial connection to the plot is through the game, her POV is a bit overshadowed by Tyler's and I would say that she provides more of a strong supporting role. When it comes down to it, it's Tyler who personally knows the antagonist, and not Ani. Ani also comes from a less troubled background, yet T. L. Costa makes sure to show the reader that both characters have families that are less-than-perfect, with loved ones who lie, or whose best is not good enough to build a life of rainbows and gumdrops.

So, in short, Playing Tyler by T. L. Costa is a thoroughly entertaining near-future adventure. Characters actually die in this. Find out which ones!

This review originally appeared in the YA Report: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/sffwrtc...
Profile Image for Mieneke.
782 reviews85 followers
August 5, 2013
Before I address anything else, I have to address the question that popped into my head after finishing the book: is Playing Tyler science fiction? Arguments could be made for both answers to that question. While there is a lot of tech, gaming, and computers etc. crucial to the plot of the book, what is the science fictional idea behind it? Is it the gamification of war by remote control? Gamers changing the world? I'm not sure. If there is far future and near future SF, this book is current SF, because I don't doubt the tech to do this exists and it's just the faith in humanity I cling to by the skin of my teeth, which makes me believe this hasn't already happened somewhere in some form. While I'm still not clear on is it or is it not SF, I've decided that it doesn't matter; near future SF, current SF, or contemporary techno thriller, Playing Tyler is a fantastic read.

What sets Playing Tyler apart is its voice. The story is told from two points of view, Tyler and Ani, and both have their own identifiable voice, but Tyler's is something special. Suffering from ADHD and not on his meds, Costa manages to convey the chaos in Tyler's head clearly, not just by his words but by the rhythm of Tyler's narrative, especially his (inner) dialogue. It's choppy and jumpy and while it feels genuine and true to how it might be to have ADHD, at the same time Tyler isn't a stereotype; he isn't just his ADHD. He is far more than that. He's quite intelligent, social, kind, and caring for his mum and his brother comes before everything, even school. In contrast, Ani puts school before everything. To be able to go to Yale, she needs to keep her job at Haranco, even if Mr Anderson is putting restrictions on her that make her uncomfortable. Both Tyler and Ani are military kids and both have suffered losses. Tyler lost his pilot dad, and consequently his family life and Ani's dad went to Afghanistan, came back with an undiagnosed case of PTSD and was sent to jail after snapping as a result. It's both heart-breaking and interesting how their loss has shaped them and their view of war and warfare: Tyler wants nothing more than to enlist as a pilot, while Ani doesn't want anything to do with it.

Many themes can be discerned in the story; there's dealing with loss; the thriller aspect; first love; addiction and its consequences. There is a lot going on and it mostly ties together quite well. The only thing I struggled with was Tyler's mum suddenly checking back in at the end of the book. That felt just too neat, especially given the events leading up to the resolution of the book. The relationship between Tyler and his brother Brandon was so painful and complicated and Tyler's sense of responsibility towards both Brandon and his mum just broke my heart. Tyler's anger, guilt, and anguished fear of losing another loved one are portrayed beautifully and intensely, almost dripping off the page in places. Playing Tyler had me crying at two separate points in the novel and they both centred on the brothers.

Playing Tyler is a wonderful debut with a fantastic voice that will haunt you between readings. My only problem with the book was its ending, which felt somewhat rushed, but other than that, I loved it. While it is a standalone book and I don't expect Costa to return to this setting, I can't wait to find out what she will do next. If Playing Tyler is just the first of many, this promises some amazing reads in the future.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
Profile Image for Cassi aka Snow White Haggard.
459 reviews155 followers
August 6, 2013
Tyler MacCandless hasn't had an easy life. After his father is killed by a drunk driver, Tyler's brother starts taking pain killers due to his injuries from the accident, eventually leading to a nasty heroin addiction. On top of that Tyler's mom is mentally checked out -- she's working hard to pay for rehab and to try to keep the family afloat. To make matters worst Tyler has ADHD and can't focus on anything, especially not school, which leaves his future looking pretty bleak.

If there's one thing he's good at it's video games. More than anything he wants to be a pilot, even if his grades aren't quite up to snuff. When Rick Anderson, Tyler's mentor from flying class and surrogate father, gives him a flight simulator video game to beta test, something that'll hopefully help get him into flight school, Tyler feels like his life is looking up.

Playing Tyler is told through two point of views, a narrative style that I often hate, young brilliant Ani who designed the flight simulator and Tyler who's testing it. For the integrity of the beta test they're not supposed to speak after the installation. But Tyler recognizes Ani as SlayerGrrl, a talented female gamer who stayed at the top of every high score list until she mysteriously quit gaming. She's a super geek genius girl and Tyler is smitten.

I'm not going to to lie, the instant attraction between these two was worrisome. Tyler thinks Ani is the most attractive girl he's ever seen and she thinks Tyler is hot as well. But they get no attention from anyone else. For Tyler, that makes some sense since he's got pretty severe ADHD and that might give him some socialization problems. But I'm always concerned when the only person who recognizes the character's attractiveness is the love interest.

Other reviewers have pointed out problems with the development of Tyler and Ani's relationship that didn't really bother me, mainly that he continued to email her when she didn't respond. But in Tyler's defense, he's a lonely boy with a very messed up life looking for someone to connect with and Ani had told him they couldn't talk because of Mr. Anderson's rules, not because she wasn't interested. It may not be the best way to behave, but that doesn't make in unrealistic. Sometimes the stupid, flawed, problematic things people do is what makes them believable characters. And seeing Ani's perspective, that the crush is mutual, really negates any problems.

Fortunately, that is not really what this book is about and spends most of it's time in the background of the novel. Instead of the mopey love story I feared, you get a timely action-packed, fast-paced, high-stakes novel when Ani and Tyler realize the game isn't quite what they thought. Playing Tyler is the type of book that keeps you up at night, turning the pages because you can't stop. It's also the type of book that would be easy to spoil if you said too much about the actual plot. So I can't tell you much more but I do recommend reading it.

FTC disclosure: I received a free advance ebook in exchange for an honest review.

For this review and more check out my blog Galavanting Girl Books
Profile Image for Tsana Dolichva.
Author 4 books63 followers
July 19, 2013
Playing Tyler by TL Costa is the author's début novel. It's a contemporary science fiction novel about two clever teens, one who writes advanced software and the other who is suffering from ADHD.

Playing Tyler has been described as "Ender's Game meets X" and I would say that's a very apt description. Not because there are space battles or aliens but because of the idea of children remotely fighting a war (which is a spoiler for Ender's Game but not Playing Tyler since it's pretty much written on the cover — and as for Ender's Game, the movie's coming out soon, so whatever). So Tyler is the one playing the "flight simulator" game and Ani, a sixteen-year-old Yale freshman is the one who wrote the program (and is paying her way through Yale by working for the government contractor who commissioned it).

I quite liked Ani (super-smart coder and gaming champion, what's not to like?) and her interactions with Tyler. It was amusing to read the alternating point of view sections and see how Tyler's view of Ani is at times wildly different from her view of herself and vice versa. Moreover, seeing Ani's opinion of Tyler helped the reader interpret how people other than his family and teachers might see him.

The bits from Tyler's point of view are written in a markedly different voice to Ani's (both are in first person) so it's not at all difficult to distinguish which point of view character we're reading (and the names at the start of each swap over also help). I found Tyler's thoughts quite frenetic, especially at the start, which made it much easier to relate to and understand his thought-processes. It effectively highlighted the way in which he differed from non-ADHD sufferers.

Although Playing Tyler started out fairly light (well, sort of), it got much more serious as the story progressed. It wasn't just the "fighting a real war" aspect, which I was expecting, but other subplots involving drugs and various issues with the main characters' family members. Both Tyler and Ani come from what might be termed "broken homes" and, although that wasn't the main focus of the story, it was nice to see realistic families with issues that weren't eleven on the scale of severity. When I started reading I was expecting as thoughtful a read as it turned out to be, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Playing Tyler was a quick and enjoyable read that I knocked over in a few hours on a plane. I highly recommend it to fans of YA, particularly of contemporary YA with some science fictional leanings. (I say some since the software etc isn't that futuristic, but the focus on technology definitely make is SF rather than plain contemporary fiction.) I would suggest that teen boys struggling with the percieved lack of YA books "for boys" would probably enjoy this book with it's fairly "masculine" focus. Obviously, there's absolutely no reason for girls not to enjoy it either.

4 / 5 stars

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.
35 reviews
July 2, 2013
Whistle Blowing Heroics or Treasonous Acts?

ADHD does not equal stupid, but that message has not yet spread to Tyler’s world…especially with the multiple learning challenges heaped on him. Classmates don’t understand his exaggerated need to move, teachers misinterpret his behaviors, the principal seems uncertain if he wants Tyler on or off drugs, and any remote possibility of staying focused is demolished with his need to care for his mom and Brandon. If it weren’t for Rick, his Civil Air Patrol mentor, Tyler would have no one he could lean on, no hope. Flying is Tyler’s absolute dream career. An appointment to the Air Force Academy might not have been out of question, except that finishing high school is. Rick has the kind of connections that can still make Tyler’s dreams possible through back doors. Amazing! Tyler’s honed skill on a flight simulation/gaming platform can be his ticket to a future career in flight. Playing the game, he can beta test the program and equipment leading to greater skill and efficiency in military drone operations. Great opportunity!

Whatever happens, Tyler is bent on staying near Brandon, his brother. He should have noticed before when Brandon was on a downward spiral with heroine. Brandon’s addiction has torn apart the family, well, what’s left of it, that is. Brandon, his hero. The one who looked out for him, stood up to bullies for him, and went to extremes to read and coach him through every required reading, essay or report to overcome his many learning challenges. Brandon, who lost a promising internet radio/journalism career, unable to broadcast from rehab. Once Brandon makes it safely out of rehab, Tyler will never again let him slip into oblivion, never again fail his hero.

The author weaves magic by altering voice between Tyler and Ani, aka SlayerGrrl, the three-time International League Gaming champion and designer of the new gaming platform. An ivy-league opportunity fell into Ani’s lap as a welcome escape from family dysfunction, with a capital PTSD, and her own possible jail-bird status, but fear ghoulishly continues to peer over her shoulder. Why should she have to choose between getting to know the hottest gamer and a fabulous job and Yale education.
Brandon worries, almost incoherently, about the company behind the game. Surely it’s just the heroine talking. Both Tyler’s and Ani’s futures depend on the game’s success and on Rick. But what if there is a sinister agenda? Would the two become guilty of murder? Of treason?
Incorporating gaming and programming, Blackhawk helicopters and drones, terrorists and heroes, and military posts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, this book is sure to entice readers of all genres.

Offering a little bit of everything to tantalize everyone, this is sure to attract a YA following and, I hope, a demand for sequels.
I received this ARC in Kindle format in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Liviania.
957 reviews63 followers
July 17, 2013
I love the bottom half of the PLAYING TYLER cover. The red poppies against the white are dramatic and different, especially in person. But the silhouette of the helicopter feels awkwardly angled and out of balance to me. The way I feel about the cover is similar to how I feel about the book. There are parts I really like, and parts I really don't.

PLAYING TYLER alternates between two points of view. Tyler MacCandless is a talented gamer, but he's failing school. He doesn't want to take his ADHD medicine, his mom is never home, and his brother is in rehab. All he wants to do is fly, and this new simulator he's testing could be his ticket into flight school. Ani Bagdorian is also a gamer, but she's an even better programmer. It's gotten her into Yale years early, although she didn't get a full ride. She's paying for the rest with a job creating a simulation.

Despite both being narrators, Tyler is definitely the protagonist. The major events of the plot happen to him, and he undergoes a change in character. But I did like that Ani's point of view was given. Plus, her passages are a nice break from Tyler's run-on, rapid thoughts. The chapters are also short, which keeps the pages moving. All in all, PLAYING TYLER was a quick, easy read.

Probably the biggest flaw is that it takes more than a third, closer to half, of the novel to reach the good stuff. It doesn't take anything more than reading the blurb to know that Tyler is going to turn out to be piloting drones for real. But it takes forever for the book to reach that foregone plot point. It also glosses over the nuanced moral issues of drones by throwing drug running into the mix. Everyone can agree that drug runners suck - especially teen boys with addict brothers.

I did like T.L. Costa's portrayal of the affects of drug addiction on a family. There are subtle hints that this isn't Brandon's first stint in rehab. Their mother is wrong to not be there for Tyler, but it's understandable that she's cut ties with Brandon. Sometimes, even though you love people, you just can't let them in your life while they're being toxic. Costa's portrayal of romance isn't as good as her portrayal of family. In fact, I might've found it creepy if not for Ani's passages revealing that she is into Tyler.

PLAYING TYLER is a quick, fun read. But it's also one I started picking apart in my head almost as soon as I finished. I think it's a debut that shows promise and look forward to Costa's future novels. I don't regret reading PLAYING TYLER, but I wouldn't go out of my way to pick it up.
Profile Image for Lisa Creane.
181 reviews44 followers
July 3, 2013
The story is great, an update of War Games for a new generation since that movie's never on TV anymore.

Tyler's life at the book's beginning is as depressing as the barren lands he monitors by drone. His voice is choppy, pissed-off and repetitive but is interlaced with the voice of Ani, the prodigy game designer, and the back-and-forth between them works to even out the intense misery of Tyler.

But then he finds his niche in life, for a while, and it's kind of glorious to experience with him. I stayed up late reading this part, because I knew it was the rise before the fall. We're told in a PPT meeting that he has ADHD and apraxia and that struck home for me because I have something similar. Endless loops of thoughts and emotions tumble through your brain, any sound distracts you, but what you say and communicate with others is limited. I at least can write. He has dyslexia so that's out for him. His brain is caged until he frees it in gaming. His voice is unique, and I was falling in love with his character.

Then the plot gets really complicated, and Tyler needs to start talking in longer sentences in order to discuss it with Ani and his brother. So he does. Then he starts talking in paragraphs, methodically arguing his side against each of theirs. This is where the story fell apart a bit for me. Upset as he is, the Tyler from the beginning would never be able to say the things that the Tyler in crisis says. Apraxia gets worse under pressure, not better. And he's off meds the whole time so there's no reason his thoughts start lining up logically and coming out of his mouth coherently. So that distracted me.

I liked everything else about the book. That it takes place near where I live around New Haven, and that Tyler's love interest is a brainy 16-year-old semi-outcast at Yale. She's great. That there are no reliable adults around, because I remember that from when I was 16. That important people are dying, have died, because that's real too. That Tyler is so hard on himself, and makes some dumb decisions. That he loves so hard.

A few things are off. Like you can't get your GED a few weeks after dropping out of high school. Like the plot is far-fetched (mostly in terms of teenagers running real machines of war, like it was when Mathew Broderick and Ally Sheedy did the same thing)--but that part is fun. The story is a thrill ride for the last half of the book, and has a good, bittersweet ending.

I'll read it again. Think my kids will too--and that doesn't happen too often :)
Profile Image for Kayla De Leon.
232 reviews
April 21, 2016
A free digital copy of this book was procured via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Playing Tyler was one of the most riveting stories I have ever read. Plot wise, it was unique and totally different from other books. As I type this, I am mentally applauding T.L. Costa for writing such a wonderful novel.

Playing Tyler started out slow and rough. The writing style takes some time to get used to especially the parts in Tyler’s perspective. Tyler has ADHD so naturally, his point of view was scattered and out of focus. I thought that the last parts of the book showed an inconsistency in Tyler’s voice. He starts out as this kid who was unable to concentrate for long periods of time but as the book progresses, his voice starts to become more and more like Ani’s. I didn’t like how this came out to be because to be honest, I liked his hyperactive personality.

Ani’s character was really good. I liked how she was very strong and capable of taking care of her own self. I also liked how her morals intervened with her work with Haranco. I couldn’t understand some of the computer lingo since that was all new territory for me. Apart from that, I also couldn’t understand how the flight simulator worked so I wish that T.L. Costa had explained that a little bit more.

Brandon. Oh dear Lord, Brandon. Can somebody scold the author for making a character that completely messed with my emotions? Brandon became a real person the minute I read about him. And that last part? That unfathomable last part that made me cry while I was reading it. Ugh. Brandon, I hate you for leaving me in the loop.

T.L. Costa is one heck of a writer. Even though I couldn’t understand some parts about Haranco, Tidewater and the flight simulator, I still loved the book. T.L. Costa is an expert at translating emotions that even if just printed on the page, I could clearly feel them. He delved into the minds of a computer nerd, an ADHD kid and a drug addict, completely making me feel what they were feeling.

This novel is one for the books. Filled with conspiracies, three-dimensional characters, technology and a plot to die for, I highly recommend Playing Tyler.
Profile Image for Melanie R Meadors.
Author 12 books23 followers
July 6, 2013
Playing Tyler is a YA thriller that pulls NO punches. Costa’s respect for teens is apparent from the get-go. Nothing is sugar-coated. A super pet peeve of mine in YA is when an author tones things down a little for their audience, and in turn, makes the story and characters unbelievable. There is none of that here. Neither is the opposite–making things so abysmal that reading the book makes you want to kill yourself. Instead, we have a believable, yet rough, family situation from which evolves a very likable character–Tyler. Tyler has ADHD, and Costa has captured the inner workings of his mind perfectly. As someone with ADHD myself, I recognized myself in him immediately, in a positive way. Tyler’s thought processes, the things that attract his attention, the things that drive him insane–all of these things are very accurate. The character voices (alternating between Tyler and Ani) drew me in right away and didn’t let go.

The subject matter of this novel is very relevant to our times, but never does it come across as preachy, “this is right, this is wrong.” I think that’s one of the things I liked best about it–it’s a story about young adults who find themselves in a very sticky situation, where there is most definitely a gray moral ground. The storyline is much like Ender’s Game, but right here, right now. This is something that is relevant to people in today’s world, dealing with issues (namely drones, and also prescription drug abuse, whistle blowing…) that are in the spotlight now.

There is, to be honest, something for everyone in this book. Guy, girl, young, er…not so young. Lots of tension here; I could easily have read it in one sitting, had my pesky life not gotten in the way. Action, romance, family, growing up, social and political issues. And gaming. What more could you ask for?
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