On A LARP By Stefani Deoul

Fast-paced young adult mystery keeps the pages turning.

Sid Rubin is on a field trip at a police station when she sees photos of a murder victim, noticing something that even the detectives didn’t—a steampunk costume that indicates the woman had been participating in a LARP event when she was killed. What’s a LARP you say? Live action role playing, except this woman had clearly been playing in a most unusual game. Sid and her friends are pulled into the investigation to help find the LARP where the murder happened and quickly find themselves down the rabbit hole of the dark web.

From the very first sentence of On a LARP, it’s impossible not to be taken in by the wisecracking whiz kid Sid Rubin. Not your average seventeen year old, she’s smarter than smart, curious beyond belief, and yet still rings true as a teenager because she has an ego that’s both huge and fragile at the same time. She has a surprising awareness of the consequences of teenagers having “an impossibly, unbelievably, underdeveloped brain,” like, say, a lack of impulse control, even if she’s not able to do much about it. Sid’s distinctive voice and attitude drive the book, no matter what she’s talking about, like when she tells the reader about seeing the photo at the police station:

So as I am pointing through the door to the photo and saying, “I’m telling you, it was a LARP. Check out the outfit.” A rather bulky man gave a cursory “Ahem” while pushing right on by as though we weren’t actually standing there, and then turns back to finish his interruption of me and Jimmy with what novelists like to call a “curious look,” right before closing the door in our faces.

If perchance (isn’t that just such a great word? I love when I can find a place to use a great word) you are wondering if I had some kind of portent about this meeting, I will let my next words speak for precisely how I felt in that moment. I looked at Jimmy and proclaimed, “Asshole.”

Pick any passage in On a LARP and you’ll know who Sid is because, while it has a riveting, intricate plot, Sid actually is the book. Her voice drives the reader’s perception of everything and we join her for not only the adventures around tracking a murderer, but also the usual emotional upsets of being a teenager including dramatic friendships and big ol’ crushes. Sid is thankfully also a conscientious narrator, because even though she talks about things like LARPing, the dark web, and bitcoins, she always stops to explain them in an accessible way so the reader always knows exactly what she’s talking about.

It’s worth noting that even though On a LARP is a young adult novel and Sid is a lesbian, there is no romance to it. It’s refreshing because there’s often an expectation that a lesbian novel has to be a romance or at least have some romantic element and that’s just not there in this book. Sid is an incidental lesbian—that is, she happens to be a lesbian but the story isn’t about her experience as a lesbian. It’s the kind of book that makes me excited for my daughters to grow up and read so they can see a smartass gay girl being the kind of interesting genius that’s often reserved for male characters.

At 200 pages, On a LARP is a short read and the pacing and narrative style propel things along at breakneck speed. Stefani Deoul has gifted us with a fresh new voice in Sid and I can’t wait to see what she has for us next. Since this book’s subtitle is “A Sid Rubin Silicon Alley Adventure,” I’m hoping that means we have many more books to look forward to.