Book Review: Chaotic Good

Chaotic Good Comps14.inddChaotic Good
by Whitney Gardner
Young Adult / Contemporary Fiction
249 pages
Published 2018

Hoooooooo boy do I have some mixed feelings about this one!

First, the good:

The writing is great. The action flows, the dialogue is suitably nerdy, the affection between Cameron and her twin brother is evident. There are a few jumps from one scene to another, but I think they’re intended to be abrupt. The troll messages and online abuse Cameron gets simply for being a girl into cosplay are spot on. The descriptions of Eugene, Oregon – my hometown! – are also spot on. I am not sure which of the comics shops in Eugene inspired the one in the book, but I have definitely had Cameron’s experiences walking into more than one of the shops in town when I was younger. (I moved away over a decade ago.)

Really the only bad thing I have to say about this book is – Cameron dresses as a boy as an experiment, then finds she passes well enough to do it in a weekly D&D game – and when she’s eventually found out, it’s either “NO WAY” or “I knew it!” I would have liked one of the boys to shrug and say “I just thought he was trans” or something. SOME. MENTION. Of transgender or nonbinary as a possibility would have made this book so much better. I’m always slightly uncomfortable with a cross-dressing character and ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION of nonbinary gender identities.

Alright, no, there’s another bad point. The only other girl her age that Cameron has any contact with is Brina, dudebro-from-the-comic-shop’s crush, and Cameron honestly doesn’t treat her well. The first time they meet, Cameron is dressed as Boy Cameron, and doesn’t defend Brina when Brody pulls his dudebro shit. Which, okay, she was still getting used to being perceived as a dude, and instinct as a girl is to let that sort of thing slide off so as to not make it worse. I can give her a pass there. But near the end of the book, they run into each other again, as Girl Cameron this time, and when Brina extends a hand in friendship, Cameron brushes her off. Sure, she had a bad day, she’s stuck in her own head, but – GIRL. You’ve been dealing with toxic dudes on the internet the entire book, and dudebros you’re – trying to be friends with, for some reason, and you brush off a girl that loves your cosplay and wants to be friends? What the heck!

So – I don’t know. I honestly really enjoyed this book. The nerdy parts were glorious, even if their DM is a little railroad-y. The comic pages sprinkled into the text, showing the D&D adventure, was an inspired touch. But I just don’t like Cameron very much.

Her twin brother is gay, and there’s some drama with his ex, which is why I’ve tagged this GLBT. His storyline being treated just like a heterosexual storyline makes me wonder more why no mention is made of gender identities. IDK. It’s cute, but it’s problematic for what it omits.

From the cover of Chaotic Good:

Soon-to-be senior Cameron hopes to complete her costume portfolio away from the online abuse she has endured since winning a cosplay contest dressed as a character from a game she’s never played. Unfortunately, the only comic shop in her new town – her main destination for character reference – is staffed by a dudebro who challenges every girl who comes into the shop.

At her twin brother’s suggestion, Cameron borrows a set of his clothes and uses her costuming expertise to waltz into the shop as Boy Cameron, where she’s shocked at how easily she’s accepted into the nerd inner sanctum. Before she can say “Demogorgon,” Cameron finds herself drafted into a D&D campaign alongside the dudebro, a friendly (almost flirtatiously so) clerk, a handsome Dungeon Master, and her brother Cooper, dragged along for good measure.

But as her “secret identity” gets more and more entrenched, Cameron’s portfolio falls by the wayside – and her feelings for her DM threaten to make a complicated situation even more precarious. Cosplay, comic shops, and college applications collide in this geek-girl anthem from You’re Welcome, Universe author Whitney Gardner, complete with fully illustrated comic pages by Gardner herself.

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