(Image from Barnes & Noble)
For people who crave intense, interactive gaming experiences, the MEEP represents the ultimate playground. While players lie unconscious at home, they use their minds to enter the massive virtual world, where all kinds of simulated experiences await their eager avatars. Although teens are only allowed to stay inside the MEEP for up to four hours, illegal hacks let them stretch their time and experience. The result? Frustrated, angry parents. That's where Phoenix "Nixy" Bauer comes in. Because her parents work for the company responsible for the MEEP, she has even better tricks, which allow her to sneak inside the virtual world and snatch errant avatars at a much lower price than the cost of an official retrieval. Although working as a bounty hunter (aka, a Leveller) makes Nixy less than popular with her peers, it's a quick, easy way to pad her college fund.
Nixy gets a fair amount of business, but when she's contacted by Diego Salvador, the billionaire who developed the MEEP, she's shocked. Also nervous, as her little levelling business isn't exactly kosher. Mr. Salvador isn't busting Nixy, but giving her an assignment. His teenage son, Wyn, has gone missing inside the game. Worse still, the boy left a suicide note in the real world—clearly, Wyn has no intention of returning to his home in the Florida Keys. If anyone can bring him back, it's Nixy.
The job won't be easy, Nixy knows that. Still, she's confident she'll succeed. Then, she discovers the truth—Wyn hasn't barricaded himself inside the game, he's being held against his will. Together, they have to fight their way out of the MEEP, not knowing who or what is after them. As the stakes rise higher and higher, Nixy realizes this is no game. This time, she's playing for keeps. This time, it's her life—and Wyn's—that is at stake. Can she beat her unseen enemy at its own game? Or will she be lost forever in a virtual world that grows more dangerous with every passing second?
As you can probably tell, The Leveller by Julia Durango is a fun, fast-paced story. Its setting—the exciting, imaginative MEEP—will appeal to gamers, reluctant readers, and anyone who enjoys a good action/adventure yarn. Although the novel will probably make readers consider the perils of spending too much time in virtual reality vs. reality reality, its lessons are subtle. Really, The Leveller is all about entertainment. It's exciting, it's funny, it's upbeat, it's engrossing. Does the whole MEEP thing seem a little far-fetched? Yes. Am I still confused by all its rules? Sure thing. Was I totally satisfied with the book's ending? No. And yet, I enjoyed this one immensely. It's just fun, you know? If you—or your favorite teen—is looking for a light, diverting read, give this one a go. It won't disappoint.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for brief, mild language (no F-bombs—at least not in English); violence/gore; and mild sexual innuendo