Guy In Real Life, by Steve Brezenoff, is one of those unlikely couple stories. Lesh, metal-head and Svetlana, Dungeon Master, meet at 2am when Lesh wanders in front of Svetlana’s bike after a night of at least five too many beers. Ordinarily, they’d never see each other again, but as it turns out they go to the same school and wind up on the same lunch period (a different one from all their friends), so an awkward, annoying encounter becomes something like an actual relationship.
This book gave me mixed feelings.
I enjoyed the snapshots of Lesh and Svetlana’s home lives. They struck me as very real teenagers. Often in YA, I find that parents are pretty absent and the lives of the teenagers I read a lot more like my life as a twenty-two year old than a reflection of my experience at sixteen. Not here. Lesh starts off the book with a long-term grounding following the aforementioned night of drunkenness (a night that ended in extreme sickness, which I also appreciated, having been a sixteen year old who could not hold her drink. I was a puker). Lesh’s life outside of school ceases to exist for a lot of the novel, which definitely increases the intensity of his relationship with Svetlana. As he’s on a different lunch period from all his friends, she’s like the 90% of his day that he’s actually interested in.
Svetlana’s family made me laugh. All Svetlana wants is to be left alone to draw, embroider her skirts and plan the next step in her current game of Dungeons and Dragons, (note: as is probably obvious, I know nothing about D&D or associated terminology. Sorry. When I was living in student halls, I tried to join in an RPG once, but it didn’t go so well and they never invited me to play again. Honestly I’m not good at games that require me to digest a ton of information up front) but she is constantly hassled by her family into attending football games and the like. I think it’s totally accurate to say that for most teenagers, there is nothing more inconvenient than your damn parents wanting to spend time with you, so this detail made me smile.
Another aspect of the book that was particularly on point was the influences their separate cliques had on Lesh and Lana’s developing relationship – turns out the metal-heads and the RPG kids don’t hang out too much. Suffice to say that integration is awkward. Lana’s friends don’t understand why she suddenly wants to spend so much time with this weird, occasionally drunken metal-head, and Lesh doesn’t want his friends to know he’s hanging out with RPG-Lana at all.
My mixed feelings happened during the chapters that weren’t about Lesh and Lana. Lesh spends a lot of time playing this computer game where he’s an elf version of Svetlana (yep, you read that right) and many chapters of the book are concerned with what happens during that game. I found these chapters a little tedious. It was apparent that they were a way for Lesh to explore his sexuality, but the long descriptions of the world of the game that I didn’t really care about made it difficult for me to engage with that.
Overall though, I would say this was a good read, despite what I classified in my head as The Elf Parts.