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Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

Game Changer is thought-provoking as well as timely. It is a fascinating study of cause and effect through which Neal Shusterman points out the every-day and, therefore, hidden elements of racism, sexism, and other forms of hatred that permeate our society. It is as entertaining as it is educational, and I loved every bit of it.

In Game Changer, Mr. Shusterman starts slowly, focusing more on cause and effect than on the other aspects of his story. Each of Ash’s jumps ups the ante on not only the lessons Ash learns but also on the impact of those lessons and the long-term changes for Ash and the world. With one simple change in a sign’s color, the story takes off, and readers can do nothing but hold on for the speculative, insightful ride.

Through each change, Mr. Shusterman does a masterful job of forcing readers to experience the hatred behind racism and the roadblocks systemic racism throws up to prevent any person of color from escaping its net. But he doesn’t stop at racism. Through Ash, readers get the opportunity to experience sexism and rape culture as well as homophobia all from a first-person point of view. It is intimate and uncomfortable and ultimately eye-opening.

Through it all, Mr. Shusterman never preaches, especially when it would be so easy to do so. Rather, he lets Ash learn naturally, experiencing each form of hatred and oppression in the context of everyday, normal interactions among friends. Those interactions, and the lessons Ash learns, are so banal as to be laughable and yet provide some of the more chilling interactions Ash experiences, which is exactly the point.

The best part is that not all of Ash’s experiences are as obvious as a potentially abusive boyfriend or a world in which Jim Crow laws still exist. Throughout the story, Ash faces real-life scenarios in which staying silent is as dangerous as speaking out about intolerance. In fact, a good majority of what Ash discovers is that silence is its own form of acceptance with its own consequences. It is a powerful lesson that comes at a perfect time.

Game Changer is not just a great speculative story about multiverses. It also is an excellent exercise in empathy as well as a compelling thought experiment that exposes readers to major facets of the systemic prejudice that permeates our society. It is the type of novel I think everyone should read, not just for entertainment but also for the opportunity for self-improvement.

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