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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"Chaotic Good" by Whitney Gardner (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Whitney Gardner's Website Here

OVERVIEW: Cameron's cosplay--dressing like a fictional character--is finally starting to earn her attention--attention she hopes to use to get into the CalTech costume department for college. But when she wins a major competition, she inadvertently sets off a firestorm of angry comments from male fans.

When Cameron's family moves the summer before her senior year, she hopes to complete her costume portfolio in peace and quiet away from the abuse. Unfortunately, the only comic shop in town--her main destination for character reference--is staffed by a dudebro owner who challenges every woman who comes into the shop.

At her twin brother's suggestion, Cameron borrows a set of his clothes and uses her costuming expertise to waltz into the shop as Boy Cameron, where she's shocked at how easily she's accepted into the nerd inner sanctum. Soon, Cameron finds herself drafted into a D&D campaign alongside the jerky shop-owner Brody, friendly (almost flirtatiously so) clerk Wyatt, handsome Lincoln, and her bro Cooper, dragged along for good measure.

But as her "secret identity" gets more and more entrenched, Cameron's portfolio falls by the wayside--and her feelings for Lincoln threaten to make a complicated situation even more precarious.

FORMAT: Chaotic Good is a standalone YA novel. It is more of a contemporary fiction novel, but it has various elements, such as cosplay, Dungeons and Dragons, and other pop cultural references that would make it appealing to the sci-fi/fantasy crowd. There is a little romance in the book, but it isn't the main focus.

Chaotic Good is 256 pages long and was published March 13, 2018 by Knopf.

ANALYSIS: I have always been one of those people who went against the norm. While kids were playing softball, volleyball and basketball in grade school and middle school, I was spending six days a week in the dance studio and had no interest in sports. I was obsessed with Nightmare Before Christmas before it became 'cool'. I loved fantasy and sci-fi books when it was mostly a males-only club. So, when I read the blurb about Chaotic Good, it sounded perfect for me.

Chaotic Good tells the story of Cameron, a teenage girl who likes to cosplay. Unfortunately, because she is a girl she is met with intense scrutiny from both the real world and online world. Everyone seems to think that in order to be a girl and like sci-fi/fantasy/graphic novels, you have to be super obsessed, know every little detail, and can't do anything 'girlie'. If you miss one fact, don't know every minor detail about the entire X-Men Universe, or you happen to like to wear nail polish and dresses while occasionally wearing a geeky t-shirt, you are obviously a poser or a faker who just wants attention.

When Cameron moves to a new town, she meets the stereotypical fandom guy. Macho, egotistical, and thinks women should be petting cute dogs and dressing up as Disney Princess. He talks down to Cameron and tells her she isn't a "real fan" because she didn't know all the details about X-Men. That leads Cameron to take on a secret identity as a guy. The minute she takes on her new identity things change and for the better.

One of my biggest concerns about Chaotic Good was that it was being advertised as a 'feminist' novel. While it does send a very good "girl power" message and the book is pro-girl, it isn't forced. The characters are detailed, the plot flows nicely, and the whole focus of the book isn't to show just how powerful women can be.

I absolutely love the message that is sent in this book. Having blogged on a sci-fi/fantasy blog for over 10 years, I have seen a lot change in the fandom world. Yes, women/girls are more accepted in the fantasy/sci-fi worlds, but there is still a lot that needs to be done. Speaking from personal experience, it was just a few months ago when someone mentioned Star Wars. I mentioned I liked Star Wars too and the response was "Who knew a girl as pretty as you would be a fan". Immediately after saying that, it was non-stop grilling of facts and other tidbits. Now, I'm sure no harm was meant by it, but this is the type of reaction that happens all too frequently. It is also the issue that is raised in this book.

A number of other issues are addressed in Chaotic Good including online bullying, struggling to maintain friendships from afar, and just working to fit in. Again, the issues aren't forced on the reader, but are worked in very naturally with the plot.

I will say my absolute favorite part of the book were the scenes where the characters played Dungeons and Dragons. It sounds like listening to a group of people play the game would be boring, but it wasn't. The scenes were quick and action filled, but they had a slight twist. They would often times be told in graphic novel format. It was a nice way to do a set of scenes in a book that could have been boring, but weren't.

At first I was a bit disappointed with the ending. It isn't like the book ends on a cliffhanger or anything, but I would have liked to know more. However, the more I think about it the more I think the ending is fitting. Everything in life isn't tied up neatly and that is exactly how the novel ends. There is enough to give readers a satisfying conclusion, but things are left uncertain and the possibilities are endless for our main characters.

Overall, I highly recommend Chaotic Good. Don't let the feminist label scare you away from it. It is a quick, enjoyable read that will be delightful to any fan of sci-fi/fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons, and even fashion design.


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