Reviews /

Emmy Levels Up

Authored by Helen Harvey
Published by Oxford University Press

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This is Harvey’s debut novel which centres on Emmy, an online sensation but real-life loner. Harvey tells Emmy’s equally heart-warming and heart-breaking tale from the first person, which only adds to the reader’s emotional investment. We join Emmy as she reaches her gaming pinnacle, ‘Binding the Mulch Queen (with) NO DAMAGE’. Emmy quickly gains gaming notoriety but her off-line life isn’t quite as rosy, facing struggles all too common to many of our young people today. 

What makes this story so powerful is its truth; it resonates profoundly because it is rooted in honesty. It is a story about a young girl trying to overcome bullying and navigate a loving but, at times, challenging home life. Alongside this, she is discovering and expanding into who she is both online and off. Harvey has crafted Emmy so completely and relatably that there are moments in this story that become difficult to read, whether you have similar experiences or not. 

The bullying is carefully considered and not simply used as a plot device: it is real and it hurts (one does wonder at the author’s own experiences, here), providing a rich opportunity for classroom learning on so many levels. For this reason, the scene in the bathroom is one that deserves close study, as heartrending as it is. Emmy tries to retreat into her internal, online gaming world to draw her strength but recognises the crushing but simple realisation that she doesn’t ‘know how to beat Vanessa’. She is vulnerable, defenceless and entirely alone. 

Vanessa herself is not an unsympathetic character, none of the characters is. Despite the awful things Vanessa does to Emmy and others around her, we feel her pain and loneliness too. I found myself rooting for every character and their redemption and reconciliation, as the complexities of playground politics are played out across the narrative. 

As well as being split into easily manageable chapters for a middle-grade reader, the plot is split into sections, such as ‘Level: Newbie’, ‘Level: Lost’ and ‘Level Up: Boss’. This small detail is easily overlooked but offers an exploration of plot structure in a way more relevant to pupils than the traditional story mountain might be. It is one of the many ways this story is accessible for a child navigating growing up in this technological age. 

Pupils will feel seen in –  and connect with – this story, which tackles so many relevant issues, that it is a must for any classroom library and deserving of deeper classroom study.