Monday, January 29, 2024

Josh Baxter Levels Up

Josh Baxter Levels Up
by Gavin Brown
Recommended Ages: 10+

Josh is a middle school kid who takes video gaming beaucoup seriously. But now he's struggling in a new school. Slow to make friends but quick to make an enemy in the boss jock, Henry Schmittendorf (a.k.a. Mittens), he's also close to failing math and English – close enough for his widowed mom to take away his game consoles. This leaves Josh with pretty much nothing else to do but apply gaming strategies to winning at life.

Josh's thought processes are heartwarming and hilarious to witness. He models his behavior on superheroes and game characters, such as Mario and Luigi, Link, Solid Snake, and Steve from Minecraft. At the end of each chapter, he takes stock of his remaining health points and skills unlocked, all couched in fantasy role-play jargon. He gives the people around him in-game nicknames, like the Rogue, the Princess, the Warrior, the Whirlwind, the Enchantress (his English teacher), the Dragon (his gym teacher) and the Gym Leader (ironically, his math teacher). We're talking Pokémon gyms, here. And he processes his successes and setbacks as levels in a game, no doubt with a boss battle at the end. And as strange as it may seem, he makes it work – all the way to uniting a group of bickering classmates into a fighting unit in their school's video game decathlon, in which (naturally) he'll have to face his own Cobra Kai nemesis – you guessed it, the Mitten Monster.

There isn't a lot of reputable information online about middle-grades author and game producer Gavin Brown. As of this writing, he isn't listed on Fantastic Fiction. His website, linked above, is mostly a list of broken links, though it does mention this book and another novel, Monster Club: Hunters for Hire. His Facebook page mentions still another, yet-unreleased book, The Dark Sorcerer's Intern, allegedly part of a three-book deal. Based on the charm of this book, I'd say those titles would probably be worth looking into. It's loopy, funny, sometimes touching, with a main character who really grows (but doesn't, at heart, change) and a dramatic build-up as he triumphs in task after task. I'd recommend it, especially for kids who are into games, but also anybody who enjoys a light, fast-paced romp in the world of a young teen's imagination.

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