“Use your Dragon Breath,” Hugh says. “I will – as soon as I can move again – stupid hit stun! What the…?” I drop my move when Kn1ght_Rage disappears for a second and then reappears, attacking me from behind. “Ugh! I forgot Blaze can teleport. Take that!” I yell as I activate Dragon Breath. Kaigo transforms into a dragon and breathes fire, but my opponent jumps away just in time. “Aaah! I can’t get any moves in.” I slam the back button to block the shock waves from the next Solar Burst, but for some reason I still take the punishment. “Why isn’t my block working?”
“Look at your Health Meter. You’re going to die from chip damage at this rate.”
“Shut up, Dev.”
Jaden is a very talented CrossUps video game player, but his mom doesn’t let him play video games if they’re violent. CrossUps is the most popular game around, and Jaden uses every opportunity when his mom is not around to hone his skills. One day while Jaden is playing, one of the best gamers around invites him to an elite CrossUps tournament where the best of the best can compete, but, as Jaden is only 12, he needs parental consent in order to attend. Meanwhile, Jaden and his best friends, Devesh and Hugh, have to deal with some school bullies. To make matters worse, Cali, Jaden’s childhood friend, might be forced to move across the country to live with her divorcee father as her mother struggles with illness in the hospital. With all this in the mix, Jaden clearly has a lot on his plate and sometimes has trouble making the best judgement calls. Jaden plans an elaborate scheme to forge his way into the tournament, but will the plan work, and is it worth breaking his parent’s trust to get in?
I glance at the clock – 6:22 p.m. I don’t hear any more noise outside. Maybe it was the neighbours’ car? I use my bread-and-butter combo: two crouching light punches back to back, followed by Dragon Claw. K.O. “Whaaaaaaaat!?!” My friends scream and jump from the couch. ( p. 4)
Structurally, the book is written at a slightly higher level than a beginner chapter book, but still has a larger font and pictures throughout making it a very approachable chapter book for struggling readers. The illustrations are featured about once per chapter, with the chapters averaging around eight pages a chapter. All illustrations are black and white and do have a bit of a video game-y feel which definitely adds to the story. Regarding the use of language, there are a lot of video game terms used and a fair amount of age appropriate slang. While this makes the book current for kids now, perhaps as these terms fall out of popularity, their use will date the book a little bit. Examples would be: “Nah”, “ratting me out”, “dude”, “turbo-boosted”. Also, characters are often throwing around words like stupid, dumb, and holy crap.
The more involved themes that surround the video game storyline include Jaden, Devesh, and Hugh’s struggles with bullying and Cali’s mum’s illness. Jaden, Devesh, and Huge end up being forced into tutoring some class bullies, Ty and Flash, after the bullies cheat on their work and get caught. The hope of their teacher, Mr. Efram, is that the boys will come to understand one another and the bullying will stop. Needless to say, this does not go well. After many altercations culminating in a potential fist fight, the two groups of boys manage to establish a cease fire. That said, the bullies Flash and Ty are never really fleshed out beyond the role of senseless bully, something which I found disappointing.
The other issue that is dealt with in Tournament Trouble is Cali’s family struggles. Jaden’s neighbour Cali is going through a tough time at home. Her mother suffers from a muscle disease and is sent to the hospital after a flare-up of her condition. As a consequence, Cali stays with Jaden and his family because Cali’s dad lives far away in Montreal. When Cali learns that her mother won’t be able to come home for some time, she must not only face the fears of having a critically ill mother but also of being uprooted to live in a new city with a father she barely knows. Jaden’s attempts to help her through these issues feel very sincere, as do the sections where he expresses doubt about how best to soothe a friend going through such a difficult time. The message there was that, even if you feel uncomfortable, or don’t know exactly how to act around a friend going through crisis, being there for them and trying your best is better than avoiding them or doing nothing.
One other thing about Tournament Trouble that made it more than just a video game book was the representation of diverse characters. Jaden’s mother is Chinese while his father is Caucasian, and there are frequent references to Jaden’s Chinese heritage throughout. His best friend Devesh’s parents are Hindi, and this is acknowledged and referenced as well. While Jaden is less keen about embracing his Chinese heritage, Cali is also of Chinese descent and Cali’s often speaking to Jaden’s mother in Mandarin encourages Jaden to do so as well.
Tournament Trouble is very clearly written with a preteen audience in mind. The use of language and content are very much geared towards the target audience and would hopefully encourage young readers to relate to the characters. I think this book would appeal to readers who are interested in video games.
Chelsea Iversen is a library technician at Richmond Public Library in Richmond, British Columbia.