**3.5-stars rounded up**
Walking in Two Worlds is Indigenous author, Wab Kinew’s, YA Fantasy debut.
Set in the near future, following two teenagers, Bugz and Feng, this narrative swerves between our world and a VR-gaming world both teens are involved in, known as the Floraverse.
Bugz, an Indigenous teen, who grew up on the Rez, is shy and self-conscious in our world, but in the Floraverse, she’s strong and confident. She’s also the most powerful and popular player in the ‘Verse.
Feng is a Chinese boy, recently sent to live on the Rez with his Aunt, the new family practicioner there. Feng was forced to flee China after his online activities suggested he was leaning towards extremist sympathies.
Feng plays in the same game that Bugz dominates and is actually part of a group called, ClanLESS, who is promoting her downfall. Violently.
When Bugz and Feng meet at school, they hit it off right away. He doesn’t recognize her from the ‘Verse, as her persona there looks a lot different than she does in real life. As they build their relationship, it is finally revealed to him who she is.
He’s impressed. Instalove ensues and Feng’s loyalties are put to the test. Can Bugz overcome the odds stacked against her?
Clearly, this is an over-simplification of the plot, but I think it is best to just go in knowing you will get great representation, exciting gaming elements, eye-opening commentary on some aspects of the Indigenous experience, as well as heartbreaking examinations of social anxiety, self-confidence and feelings of being powerless, voiceless or helpless.
Certain details of this story hit me hard, but it was a mixed bag. While I genuinely appreciate the level of creativity Kinew brought to this story, including some really great current social issues, I couldn’t help but feel that Bugz and Feng played second fiddle to all of that.
It felt like they weren’t built-out as much as they could have been. Maybe it was because the book was fairly short, but the insta-love was too heavy for my taste and their personalities felt very flat. I wanted to know them more and I don’t think Kinew had the chance to really allow them any growth.
The gaming elements were quite well done. I thought it was exciting and vividly-described. Even though I knew that was a virtual reality, it still hurt my heart when events happened in the game that had a negative impact on Bugz.
The game is so much a part of her life. It is where she feels the most strength; the most like her true self. That was impactful. Well done by Kinew.
Towards the end, there were a couple of plot points that didn’t sit quite right with me; for example, an event involving ClanLESS in real life. I believe I understand the symbolism behind that being included, but it just didn’t make practical sense.
Also, I was hoping for more personal growth from Bugz. I will admit to being a little unsatisfied with her trajectory.
With this being said, this is a very good story. It’s fast-paced and I really feel like I got a lot out of it.
My hope is that this makes it into a lot of school libraries in the United States and Canada. I think YA-Readers will really relate to a lot of the topics explored within this story and the representation is so needed.
Thank you so much to the publisher, Penguin Teen, for providing me with a copy to read and review.
I had a lot of fun spending time with Bugz and shed a few tears along the way. I really hope that Wab Kinew continues to write in the YA-Fantasy space. I would love to read more from him!
Walking in Two Worlds releases tomorrow!!!