Friday, December 11, 2015

Book Review: "Movie Game" by Michael Ebner

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Pen and Picture for making it available!

The story of a teenager who spends much of his life watching or thinking about movies, Michael Ebner's Movie Game reads kind of like a blockbuster movie. There's action, intrigue, mystery, romance, violence, sex, and even a little drama. But like many popular blockbusters there's so much shoehorned into the plot it veers off the rails from time to time, but its charm ultimately keeps you reading.

It's the summer before Joe's senior year of high school. He spends nearly every waking moment watching or thinking about movies, or playing the rapid-fire Movie Game with his buddies, which he usually wins. He considers himself the defender of distraction-free movies, and often follows offenders home after the movie has ended. Joe also has late-night encounters with Nikki, who keeps their relationship a secret from her real boyfriend, and he's a big fan of dark dipping, or swimming in neighborhood pools late at night.

Joe and his older sister have been keeping up appearances since their father disappeared three years ago and their mother left to live with her new boyfriend, afraid if authorities find out Joe is without parental supervision, social services may step in. While Joe is a cinephile, his sister is an excessive reader. But what Joe doesn't realize is that government agents have him on constant surveillance, because their father isn't quite who he said he was.

"Their excessive consumption of fiction was an essential distraction from their broken home."

Suddenly Joe's life seems more and more like a movie—his new college-aged girlfriend may have hidden motives for their relationship, the stories he's been telling his sister to push her to live her own life are actually less elaborate than the truth, and then there's the increasingly annoying presence of the federal agents, who want his help tracking down his father, who has apparently become a terrorist. All that, and he's still dealing with the trauma of his high school girlfriend's tragic death three years earlier.

Will Joe choose the bonds of family over the long arm of the law? Will he finally get the girl he deserves? Will he be able to continue winning at the Movie Game, or will a new competitor supplant him? And most importantly, will they all live happily ever after?

Ebner's book is a little wacky and far-fetched (I can't tell you how often I had to remind myself that Joe was supposed to be entering his senior year in high school given his level of sophistication), but it's fun, funny, and even a little bit moving. There is a lot going on in this book—too much, I think—so the plot really goes all over the place, and you sometimes don't know what scenario you're in at a particular moment. But Joe is a fascinatingly charming yet flawed character, and you're compelled to keep reading to see where his story goes.

Summer movie season may be over, but Movie Game is like a summer movie in book form. All you need is the popcorn.

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