Hello, and welcome to another installment of YA Book club, the place where Emily and Mary talk all things YA! This month, we’re talking about Warcross by Marie Lu. This novel follows Emika Chen, a young woman on the brink of financial disaster, unable to pay her rent and in debt. When Emika hacks into a Warcross tournament, she unintentionally catches the eye of Hideo Tanaka, the founder of the Warcross games and a tech billionaire. As Emika and Hideo grow closer, Emikia is tasked with finding a dangerous hacker who threatens to jeopardize Hideo’s business--and his life. This novel has been compared to Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, but is notably different because it features a female protagonist and a less sweeping (though perhaps more personal and dangerous) plot. Join us, as we discuss Warcross!
Mary: So this novel, even before we read it, was on my radar as something that had been compared to Ready Player One, which I loved at the time (and have very different feelings about now). However, I think this novel is maybe more personal than RPO. I felt like I knew Emika by the end of the story, and was worried about her! Do you think these two novels compare, or is this an unfair comparison?
Emily: Honestly, at first I was getting Ready Player One vibes, but this book has more of a Hunger Games thing going on for me. And also a little bit of Inception (yikes). For the record, I hate Inception and just feel kind of lukewarm about Hunger Games.
Mary: Oof! I also feel sort of bleh about Hunger Games, and never really jumped on the wagon for that series when it was hot. I loooooved Inception, but Christopher Nolan is trash.
Emily: But do you see the comparisons I’m getting at? We have a girl who’s thrust into this game she is more prepared for than people expect her to be. And then of course the game basically hacks your brain. Oh, btw. Spoilers. LOLOLOL.
Mary: For SURE. It’s a good comparison. I think the Hunger Games comparison is particularly strong for me--it’s got a very kill or be killed vibe for part of the novel. It seems dangerous!
Emily: But why do you think the biggest comparison has been Ready Player One? Because it’s a game? There are so many books about games.
Mary: Definitely because it’s a game, and a virtual reality game at that. Also, the game seemed to permeate the world-- people did business inside the game, just like in RPO, and seemed to have entire lives within the virtual world. But for me, that’s where the comparison ends. Warcross isn’t a scavenger hunt. It’s definitely more like Hunger Games in the way the game is played and how much of a spectacle the games are. I think the novel does something completely different from both these other books, though, in that it’s also trying to be a teen romance novel at the same time it’s trying to be a technological action/thriller. There was a weird shift midway through the novel, where Emika and Hideo suddenly, and without much warning, enter into a romantic relationship. Was that as shocking to you as it was to me?
I mean, a lot of YA books have a romance component, but this relationship seemed very sudden and based on little. I think we’re supposed to believe Hideo is this emotionally stunted, scarred young man (with a dark backstory dun dun dun!), but I’m not sure I buy it.
Emily: I was seeing more of a connection with Asher, but I also didn’t EXPECT any romance at all. It seems almost like YA novels feel the need to shove a romance in, even when it’s not really necessary or doesn’t make sense. As for the specific romance with Hideo, it seemed like a weird power dynamic, which is why I never viewed him as a viable romantic interest. Like, he pays all of her bills and is watching over her in the game. He’s her BOSS, in every sense of the word.
Mary: YES. SUCH A WEIRD POWER DIFFERENCE. I guess, as someone who is constantly told about the dangers of power differences in academia, this rang a lot of warning bells for me. Like, you CANNOT DATE YOUR BOSS, EMIKA.
Emily: Yeah, absolutely not. But maybe this is the issues of grown as women reading YA books. The kids are getting lost in the romance of being wined and dined by a wealthy dude. And we’re just like WHAT ABOUT THE HR ISSUES!
Mary: SHARON IN HR IS GOING TO LOSE IT, EMIKA.
Emily: I’m having nightmares about the paperwork. Anyway. You said we got to know Emika as a character more than we get to know whatshisface from RPO. I mean for real forgot his name. But really. What do we get to know about her, and looping it back in to this relationship with Hideo, how does that work with what we know about him? Like HR issues aside, do these humans make sense together?
Mary: I think maybe, now that we’re talking about it, we might not get to know Emika as well as I thought. I’m trying to think what we know about her outside her being poor, and struggling, and being smart--which are also things we knew about whatshisface. Maybe the difference is that Emika isn’t thinking gross boy thoughts. I remember a chunk of RPO trying to discuss issues in gamer culture, and one of those issues was the objectification of women. But really, it just ended up reinforcing a lot of negative ideas I already had about the community as a whole. Because we were in a teenage boy’s head. With Emika, she definitely had romantic thoughts, and sexual thoughts, but it wasn’t like, “I bet Hideo would look hot in a bikini” or whatever.
That being said, I’m not sure they do make sense together. I think attraction in general is a weird thing and we can never really know what attracts us to someone until it’s happening. Emika definitely was interested in Hideo, and admired him, but the shift from seeing him as a role model and aspirational figure to seeing him as a lover was a weird one for me, and it didn’t make sense. Being friends? Yes. Caring for each other? Yes. But not dating. That just seemed like too big of a jump.
Emily: Yes, I think you hit on something else that made this dynamic weird. The fact that she idolizes him. That kind of makes for a weird power dynamic within the relationship as well. This is why teenagers don’t often actually end up dating the dudes from the boy bands that are posted up on their walls. It would be weird.
Mary: Mmmmmhm! It would be really weird. I wish she’d gotten with one of the other people on her team--maybe even DJ Ren (who has the dumbest name of all time), the French DJ who is maybe a villain for most of the novel. I think having that attraction between a villain (or potential villain) and the hero is very compelling. Because we often don’t get to pick what we find hot, tbh. Plus, maybe she’d get to eat croissants in bed (which sounds like a crumb nightmare, but also a dream).
My biggest issue with the entire novel is that it just sort of...ends. We get a lot of plot dropped on us at the end, and then it just ENDS. It’s clearly setting up a sequel, which is available now, but I felt let down by the lack of a cohesive ending. Trouble looming on the horizon? Cool. The big bad being revealed in the final pages of the novel? NO. That’s not an effective ending.
Emily: As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t like feeling like I have to commit to a series. There are a lot of books out there, and I want to be able to dip in and read a book without feeling like I have to read the next one to enjoy the one I’m currently reading. That’s why (CONTROVERSIAL OPINION HERE) Interview with the Vampire is so much better than The Vampire Lestat. Interview with the Vampire works as a standalone, but leaves the story open for a sequel. And guess what? I was into it, and I read the sequel. The Vampire Lestat ended with a cliffhanger, and I was like fuck you book and never came back.
Mary: I totally agree. I feel tricked when a novel ends on a cliffhanger, just like I feel tricked when a movie ends on a cliffhanger. It feels like a money grab to me. I think a good example of an open ending is a book we just read, The Hazel Wood. I felt satisfied with the ending of the novel, but curious about what more could happen to these characters. I’m excited for the next book in the series because I liked the characters and the setting and even though THIS adventure is complete, there are more to be had. I don’t like to feel the book TELLING me I have to read another book to get the whole story. I want to make that decision on my own. I got a lot of books to read!
Also, the big bad of the book turns out to be Hideo’s brother. I called this halfway through the book and HATED IT.
Emily: Agree. This was really predictable. And it would have been just as likely for the big bad to be someone unrelated to Hideo, based on what Hideo is doing in his game and how much power and prestige he has. So this extra layer seemed a little false to me. Wow, I didn’t think I disliked this book, but the more we talk about it, the more I’m talking myself out of liking it at all.
Mary: Yeah, me too. Discussing it and really dissecting the plot is making me doubt, but I really did enjoy it as I was reading, really! I think sometimes it’s hard for me to turn my analytical side off and just enjoy something. I was just enjoying while reading it, but now that I’m in analysis mode I’m not so sure I liked it that much. Booooo!
Emily: Can I say one thing I did like? There was this thing where you could get points for doing things in real life. Like she gained points for being in Tokyo for the first time. I have to say, just knowing myself, I would get really obsessed with earning IRL points. Like, it would control my life.
Mary: Remember FourSquare? It reminded me of that. My mom was OBSESSED with that when it was a big thing, and would go places JUST to sign in and then leave. That would be us with this system and we would start to hate ourselves for it.
Emily: Hate ourselves… or love ourselves?
Mary: TRUEEEE. How did we rate this book? I rated it 3 out of 5 stars, and I feel good about that rating. I did enjoy this book, but I have some criticisms now that I’ve taken a step back.
Emily: I agree. I also rated it 3 out of 5 stars. It was imaginative, despite the fact that we spent a lot of time at the beginning of this review talking about how it reminded us of other stuff. At times, it almost felt derivative, but I think Marie Lu made this world her own by the end of it. I just wasn’t blown away. I had an okay time. I wouldn’t tell other people not to read it. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to get people to read it either.
Mary: Same! Join us next time as we discuss Wilder Girls by Rory Power––and do yourself a favor and look at the beautiful cover of this book!
Emily: oooooh. It beautiful. Okay bye.