By T.L. Costa
Available now from Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
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.