Title: Don’t Hate the Player
Author: Alexis Nedd
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Review Copy: Copy provided by Publisher
Availability: Available now
Summary: By day, Emilia is a field hockey star with a popular boyfriend and a mother obsessed with her academic future. But by night, she’s kicking virtual ass as the only female member of a highly competitive eSports team. Emilia has mastered the art of keeping her two worlds thriving, which hinges on them staying completely separate.
When a major eSports tournament comes to her city, Emilia is determined to prove herself to the male-dominated gaming community. But her perfectly balanced life is thrown for a loop when a member of a rival team—Jake—recognizes her . . .
From an exciting new talent, this sweet and charming YA romance will win the hearts of gamers and non-gamers alike.
Review: Not being much of a gamer and only knowing of esports in a conceptual manner, I was really open to reading Alexis Nedd’s debut about gaming and romance. I imagined the story would be one of enemies-to-lovers (one of my favorite tropes), but also address the issues that many girls and women experience in the gaming community. I was wrong about the enemies-to-lovers, but Nedd was spot on in her criticism of how female gamers are perceived and treated.
At the heart of the novel is Emilia who is somehow managing to be a star athlete, student, a kinda girlfriend and being on a highly competitive esports team. Even though Emilia is a fictional character I was so stressed for her to be balancing so many expectations of others and of herself. But she was doing what she had to do to satisfy her over-achieving parents, while also wanting to participate in an activity that she loved. Because of that, Emilia has lost herself, in a sense, because she was playing a role that didn’t reflect who she really was. She doesn’t realize how much she is missing herself, or rather showing her true self to her friends and family, until she reconnects with Jake. Her relationship with Jake brings her a balance as she is able to be her true self around him and she realizes that with participating in the tournament, she might have to come clean to everyone who loves her. What is also nice about her relationship with Jake is that he completely supports her with her dual lifestyle and doesn’t critique her at all. He understands her reasonings and does his level best to accommodate to Emilia’s needs. I so loved him for that. And of course, when all in revealed in the worst possible way, he is in her corner.
Like I mentioned earlier, Nedd also uses the novel as a statement with how girls and women are treated in the gaming community. Emilia created two separate lives for herself because she was almost doxxed at one point, nor does she allow herself to be on voice chat because of the harassment she received. Need also does a wonderful comparison between Emilia’s team and Jake’s team, where Emilia’s team is so competitive that it can be toxic, while Jake’s team is just as competitive but works in a more supportive environment. His team has two girls and the most of the male members support the girls when they receive negative attention, while Emilia is the only girl on her team and the support she receives in conditional. I feel like the two different team dynamics really highlight how gaming can be competitive and fun when mutual respect is given and girls are not seen as “invading” space. I loved Nedd’s debut for this reason.
If you like gaming and you like romance, be sure to pick up this fun, heartwarming book as soon as you can.