By Author / Illustrator
Oxford University Press
Paperback / softback
Emmy is brilliant at the computer game, Illusory Isles. Her avatar is a powerful fire elemental with magma claws and flaming breath. When Emmy's gaming video gets a front-page feature, thousands of devoted fans flock to watch her battle the ultimate online baddie, the Mulch Queen herself.
Life at school is the exact opposite. Emmy is friendless and bullied by Vanessa AKA the Queen of Mean. To Vanessa and her gang, Emmy is a weirdo with bad handwriting, horrible fashion sense and no dad. But if Emmy can take on the Mulch Queen online, perhaps she can also find a way to take on Vanessa too?
Emmy decides to level up and solve this challenge alone. But then Emmy discovers that Mulch Queens and Mean Queens are much easier to face when you have a little help from new friends . . .
A brilliantly styled story focusing on bullying , friendship, fitting in and finding your own personal power . The story is updated for the digital age of gaming and feels fresh, relevant and very relatable with; it's almost dual narrative on characters' online and real life worlds.
In 'real life', Emmy is an outsider, a 'weirdo' - looked down on and bullied by a mean girl clique lead by the 'Queen of Mean' Vanessa. She is sly, vicious and full of cutting and hurtful remarks. Emmy doesn't have the back up, the confidence, the cool clothes or the perfect family and funds to feel she can take Vanessa on or match her in the school pecking order. So school is tough and home often feels like a battleground between the family members (especially mum's boyfriend, Paul, and Emmy's big brother Ryan).
Yet online, Emmy becomes Emmentine in the fantasy game Illusory Isles. Here, she is an experienced, expert gamer; a fire elemental full of confidence, battle skills and tricks that has her many, many gamer fans and friends eager to follow and learn from her.
As she levels up online to beat the (poisonous gas-spitting) Mulch Queen and escape from her attempts to slay her, can Emmy 'level up' her real life to rise above and beyond (poisonous, insult-spitting) Mean Queen Vanessa's attempts to cut her down? Can Emmentine and Emmy find their own tribe to trust, support and belong to?
Emmy Levels Up is heart-breaking and heart-warming. The dual lives of Emmy show her initially in isolation and as a lone figure, battling her adversaries, but this also give the reader a sense of her inner resilience and make us root for her from the start. I love the way that the online world of Illusory Isles isn't created just to flesh out the real life story line . The details within it, the world building and the decisions Emmentine make are all of equal weight to her real life experiences. As Emmy says to brother, Ryan "Online friends are real friends." I'm sure this will resonate hugely with many of the book's reader. These strengths and abilities as Emmentine sustain Emmy through the pain, humiliation and confusion of what she experiences and can't always control in her day to day life.
The book is so sensitively and carefully written. Author Helen Harvey doesn't sugar-coat the emotional and often brutal effect that others can have on an individual and there are several very moving and upsetting scenes for Emmy at school. Seeing Emmy's gaming talent and reputation create a whole group of blossoming friendship at school, as well as giving her a squad of heroes online, however, really seals the intertwining of her two worlds and makes a vital point about the validity and value of what an online persona can give to a younger person as they grow up.
There is so much negativity and concern about online worlds/ social media that our new generations are growing up in and it is right that we monitor and support these activities, but I really enjoyed seeing the positives and empowerment that can also be given to someone through the creativity and imagination of the digital age.
Emmy Levels Up is an exciting, enthralling, clever and powerful story. I am excited to take this into school and to read it with classes.
304 pages / Ages 8+ / Reviewed by Jenny Caddick, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+
When Emmy is playing the part of Emmentine in the online game: Illusory Isles, nobody can defeat her. She is master of her game. She is queen of combat. She is a celebrity. The video of her greatest defeat against The Mulch Queen is legendary in the Illusory Isles world. Nothing can burst her bubble.
But in real life, Emmy struggles: Her scruffy handwriting makes her work illegible, she has to wear her brother's cast-off shoes and the new girl Vanessa has stolen her best friend Lila. Nothing she does helps her to fit in, and she begins to realise that nothing will ever be right in her real world again. But a chance grouping of three children in Miss Monday's class, who struggle to write their stories, sows the fragile seeds of new friendship and the realisation that, with a trusty companion, any beast can be overcome...eventually.
Helen Harvey creates a parallel existence that I'm sure many children will resonate with today: their online persona versus their real life. In a time when socialising is dominated by technology and children can be whoever they want to be with the avatar that they produce, this book brings together the vulnerabilities experienced whilst highlighting the skills and strength that the gaming world can also teach. A fresh and current world that I am sure many children will be able to resonate with.
Links to: nuclear families, bullying, friendship, poverty, perseverance, strength and belief all wrapped up within the dual zones of real and online worlds.
304 pages / Ages 8+ / Reviewed by Donna Burkert, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+