Chaotic Good is the first book that I’ve read by Whitney Gardner. I am happy to say that I will definitely go back to check out You’re Welcome, Universe and will anxiously await the release of Fake Blood this fall. Chaotic Good will be released for sale on March 13, 2018.
Cameron Birch feels like a fish out of water when she moves from Portland to Eugene, Oregon. When she ventures into Atomix Comix to purchase cosplay reference material, her fears are validated. Dudebro Brody, the store manager, harasses her about her choices, her knowledge of geek culture, and even ushers her to a “girl section” to help her from being overwhelmed by the boy comics. Reading the opening pages of the book made me so angry. The Brody’s (and sometimes Brenda’s) of the world are why I have to psych myself up to go to the comic store to buy my Archie reboot comics.
In a bid to shop unhindered at the only comic store in Eugene, Cameron – with the help of her twin brother Cooper – transforms herself into Boy Cameron. In her boy cosplay (lets just call it armor) Cam is treated with more respect then she ever was as a girl. After her first trip to Atomix as a boy she is befriended by Wyatt (called Why) and invited join a Dungeons & Dragons game with Brody and DM Lincoln – she brings her brother along to fill out the game. Even as a noob, her questions about gaming are not met with derision or suspicion; she is just one of the guys.
In the background of her new life in Eugene, Cam is trying to create a costuming portfolio to get into CalArts when she graduates from high school. If that isn’t stressful enough, she is also facing online backlash because of her cosplay creations. Her geek cred has been called into question. True to internet form, she is being judged and harassed by a faceless horde of internet users. They are (butt-hurt) spiteful, rude, and some of them are downright vicious.
Of course, when you are trying to make new friends, dressing up as somebody you are not and infiltrating their ranks is generally frowned upon. Drama ensues. Relationships are tested. Cell phones are harmed. Gardner guides this story to a satisfying ending and I couldn’t help but smile thinking about what might come next for the characters.
I enjoyed this book immensely, as a reader of YA fiction and as a geek. Personally I have not played much D&D but I have been around it for such a LONG time. I appreciated the campaign storyline and I loved the D&D graphic interludes in the text. Linc reminds me of an important person in my life; he to is a brilliant storyteller and weaver of brilliant RPG campaigns.
I think what I appreciated most about this book is the depiction of what it is like to be a female trying to break into the ranks of a male dominated subculture. Gardner writes with aplomb about being the only girl in a comic book store, online bullying, and walking down the street as a woman. We live in the time of gamergate, #metoo, and #EnoughisEnough. We live in a time when rape culture is a common term and doxxing is a tool used by the nameless to inflict their brand of vigilante justice upon those they feel have wronged them.
In Chaotic Good Gardner delivers us a female who is learning to be strong. Even though she stumbles, she is learning how to navigate this world of ours. Cam is not always right, but she is a big enough person to admit her weaknesses and her bad decisions (eventually). In the end, Cam learns that she needs to be the change she wants to see in her geek community. I wish her well in her endeavors.