The Eye of Minds – James Dashner

Diving in to James Dashner’s “The Eye of Minds” was as addictive and immersive as one of my favorite video games. Which is apt, since this young adult novel (hey, I’m still young enough to enjoy those!) is about an adventurous teen named Michael who journeys daily into the popular and dangerous world of VirtualNet, or VirtNet for short. With his friends Bryson and Sarah, Michael seeks to progress from Lifeblood, their favorite game, to Lifeblood Deep, a level reserved for only the most elite gamers. They plan to attain this vaunted status by persistently winning, hacking and modifying the code, and searching for “The Path” as they seek to defeat a dangerous entity known as Kaine.

But something isn’t right. His parents keep extending their trip longer and longer, his nanny Helga abruptly disappears, and Michael begins to suffer from anguishing, skull-splitting headaches which render him senseless. Is it Kaine’s doing? Can the VNS, Virtual Net Security, do anything about it? What’s going on?

This book was a gift from my husband David, who knows me well. I too love virtual games, so it was really fun for me to imagine a virtual reality game to play with friends (hey, we might not be too far away from such a possibility; check out the virtual reality headset called Oculus Rift, which I got to try out at an elearning conference at Duke last year!) The teen angst was fairly low in this book, somewhat different from other YA novels I’ve read recently. The adventure level was high, which I love! Perhaps my favorite part was the fact that Bryson, Sarah and Michael were talented hackers who could “see” the code from within the game and adapt it to their own needs. For example, in a particularly difficult game set in primitive Greenland where they were at a severe disadvantage and had only knives as weapons, they cleverly copied the code from another game to enable more advanced weaponry and magical skills.

Room for improvement: I do have to say that there were certain holes in the plot, undeveloped ideas about “coding” and “hacking” which were frequently mentioned but amateurly referenced, a hasty ending which didn’t seem fully logical, and a somewhat lackadaisical attitude from the main character, Michael, which I couldn’t connect with. For example, I would be way more worried that my parents were absentee, but he isn’t truly concerned until the end of the book, and it’s brought up out of the blue, without any trigger. Additionally, the ending is full of fireworks (don’t worry, no spoilers in this review!) and slackjawed amazement at the outcome, but it didn’t seem to quite make sense to me in terms of where his loyalties lay. (If anyone reads it and then wants to discuss, I’d love that!)

I would also caution any parents whose teens may have depression or suicidal tendencies, as there is a bone-chilling suicide scene right in the beginning of the book, which is sickening and not fully explained or made better. 😦 To me, that is a highly serious and delicate topic which probably should not have been thrown into the plot; there were myriad other ways Dashner could have shown how some gamers in the game too long can lose their mental sense of separation between reality and gameplay.

However, I give this book a solid 3 out of 5 stars for its high adventure content, interesting concept and good writing. Enjoy!

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