Invitation to the Game
by Monica Hughes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Invitation to the Game / 0-671-86692-3
I read this book as a little girl and spent the next ten years looking for it in book stores because it stuck with me so strongly.
"Invitation to the Game" is in some ways standard science fiction fare: the earth is overcrowded with unemployed people, none of whom can find a job because robots can accomplish most tasks more cheaply and efficiently than humans can. When a group of young adults are dumped directly out of their high school graduation into the government run slums to "enjoy their leisure years" as unemployed adults, they despair that they will ever be happy again. Their "leisure years" are anything but, as they stave off simultaneously crippling boredom and the perils of extreme poverty in their "Designated Area" where gangs roam free at night and the other unemployed adults party themselves into an eternal stupor to dull the pain.
When a mysterious organization offers the group a chance to participate in a virtual reality game for a mysterious prize, they leap at the chance, anxious to do anything to brighten their existence and bring meaning to their lives. Yet as the year goes by and their visits to the gaming center become more frequent, they speculate as to the true motives of this organization and what the real meaning of "The Game" truly is.
"Invitation to the Game" is a fascinating exploration of a future where inertia prevents the necessary changes to society that are so terribly needed, and where brilliant young minds are in danger of being wasted in order to allow the system to continue unchallenged. This is not "action scifi" - much of the book is devoted to daily scrounging and survival without the help of adults (a sort of futuristic "Boxcar Children", if you will) and to periods of discussion over the nature of society and their own uncertain fates and futures. Hughes does a remarkable job moving the story as a fast clip, and her contrasting drab future society and vibrant virtual reality escape are wonders to behold.
While the story sounds depressing and frightening, the Hughes maintains a light touch, providing nurturers among the group to act as a surrogate mother and father, and the young adults are remarkably self-sufficient and dedicated - teaching themselves karate and instituting a fun and healthy exercise regimen to protect themselves both within and without "The Game". While their world has hardships and privations, these are seen as challenges to be overcome rather than impossible burdens. While the individual members of this thrown-together group often do not get along, they nevertheless learn to respect each other and they solve conflicts realistically. The end result is that the reader relishes in their small victories and the privations of the world around them only make the victories that much sweeter. And when the prize of "The Game" is revealed, we see that the solution to their problems is both bitter-sweet and exquisite.
~ Ana Mardoll
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