Every now and again you come across a book that really just takes you back. For me, You is one of those books. I didn’t grow up in the 1980s like Russell, the main character. But I did grow up playing computer games in the 1990s and I remember watching them evolve from the simplest black and green symbol based caricatures and level designs to the far more intricate designs that came as technology advanced and we entered into the era of true console gaming. Austin Grossman remembers all of this too but because he was a part of it. He’s worked on a number of video games and so the guy knows what he’s doing when he writes what is probably the best (and possibly – at least at the moment only) truly nostalgic video game related novel.
In You, Russell is a young man whose found himself floundering a bit. Always talented with computers but not quite as talented as his friends, he has spent his entire life trying to reach that perfect vision of happiness. He wants a good job, a wife, kids. He wants the American dream. At least he does until he drops out of law school and finds himself practically begging for work at the video game company that his high school friends had created without him. Black Arts has been a main superpower in computer gaming for years but after Simon, the main creative power behind the company, died things have been a bit on the rocks. Russell finds himself not only trying to catch up with years of technology but also a way to save the company. It doesn’t help that a mysterious glitch has been stalking the code of all Black Arts’ titles and may spell doom not just for them but for others as well. Ultimately, Russell has to come to terms with his past and navigate his present while his future remains in the balance and he starts trying to fit into a world full of booth babes, crazy office culture, and constant, never-ending coding.
The book is very much about Russell as an individual but also about the enigmatic Simon. A brilliant programmer decades ahead of his time, he died rather suddenly and without leaving much documentation behind. Without Simon around the company really has fallen apart – though with Simon and Darren (another of their high school friends who formed Black Arts with Simon) at odds even before Simon’s death it’s clear that there is a lot more going on.
But this is not a book about conspiracies.
It’s a book about people and friendship. It’s about realizing what really matters and about coming to terms with the people and lives we sometimes leave behind when we go off to college. I could relate to so many things in this book – even the urge to drop out of law school and some how do something else, something creative. I think a lot of people can relate to an urge to throw away the conventional ideas of success in favor of something more fulfilling. Russell is the lucky bastard who gets that chance and who gets to try to make amends. He also sort of gets to save the world and get the girl.
Really, I can’t recommend this book enough.
Just do the book a favor and don’t go into it thinking it’s going to be just like Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. So many people are comparing this book to that one and it’s really not fair. They are two very different, very distinct books. This is almost a historical fiction book – if you consider the 1990s a period of historical fiction. It’s about people. Meanwhile Ready Player One is one massive truly video game centered book. Not to say that there aren’t a lot of really cool video game scenes in this book. There are. But still. They are very different books and very different settings.
And You deserves to stand on its own.