Level 13: A Slacker Novel
Level 13: A Slacker Novel
Cam was outraged. “You of all people should know that I’m doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do! I’ve got fifteen thousand total followers; over a thousand full subscribers. It’s—awesome.” As he said that, a yawn twisted his mouth. “Why can’t you be happy for me?”
How could I explain it to him? The biggest knock on Cam had always been that he was a slacker. I never disagreed with that. He wasn’t just a slacker; he was the slacker. For Cam, slacking was a symphony, and he was Mozart.
But since GameFox229, the guy was streaming two hours every day after school, and upward of four on the weekends. Add in the setup and strike-down time, plus beaver transport, and Cam was working every free second of his life.
Working—that was the key word. Video games used to be fun. Now they were a full-time job. And anyone who worked as much or as hard as Cam wasn’t a slacker anymore.
In this sequel to Slacker, eighth-grader Cameron Boxer finds a new way to avoid leading the Positive Action Group club and play video games instead: he starts a rumor that he is flunking school and needs to hit the books. His new goal is to make money as a live-streaming gamer, and he discovers that a combination of game-loving beaver Elvis at his side and his quest to be the first person to get to the mysterious Level 13 makes him an online hit where he disguises himself as GameFox229. Soon he and his friends are spending all their time on the stream while various classmates send Cam their completed assignments. When Cam is named class valedictorian for having the highest marks, his classmates discover his ruse and turn on him. Cam, sick with a beaver-induced infection, decides to donate his online earnings to the P.A.G’s library fundraiser, saving the day and his reputation.
As with the previous book, Korman continues to win at highly contrived situations underpinned by real middle-grade concerns, non-stop action, and an uncanny ear for plot and narrative tricks that keep the reader believing and rooting for the hero. Cam’s descent into sleep deprivation, moral cowardice, and an illness he is unaware of are so skillfully portrayed that the reader feels his pain and hopes it will end soon—but not before he reaches Level 13 or 50,000 followers. The theme of the reluctant anti-hero is brilliantly played out in a series of coincidences set against the credulity of the supporting cast. The reader knows Cam has got to end it sometime, and, once the end comes, it is a sublime pleasure: enthusiastic P.A.G. member Daphne narrates that Cam must have all along been planning the ultimate fundraiser, supported by unwitting classmates doing his homework for him.
The constant evolution of the gaming environment, the bizarre love of video games by a beaver, and the rotating narration duties among Cam and his crew do occasionally make Level 13 an exhausting if not credulity-stretching read. But, if there’s any criticism to be had about this book, it is certainly not that it has no moral. Korman knows better than to moralize about the situation, and, as in Slacker, Cam doesn’t end up particularly contrite or committed to the cause of his volunteerism-loving classmates. In the end, finally reaching Level 13 with no audience other than his friends (and finding it a deep disappointment), Cam, if he’s learned anything, it’s that once something isn’t fun anymore, it isn’t worth doing.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and Vice-Chair of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations-Fédération canadienne des associations de bibliothèques.