Roberta Ritter has been waiting for a knight in shining armor for most of her humdrum life. She’s a doormat, a nobody whose mother died a few years back, a smart girl who wastes her afternoons working in a failing arcade in a failing shopping mall. And then a Crusader arrives. . . . Only this Crusader is a virtual reality war game, one that does a booming business at the arcade, despite--or perhaps because of--the controversy over its racism and violence. Roberta’s boring life explodes. Onetime friends become bitter enemies, strangers reveal themselves as allies, and Roberta discovers the truth about her mother’s death. In uncovering what’s real and not just virtually real, Roberta learns to stand up for herself--and, maybe, to become her own crusader.
I’ve been a fan of Edward Bloor ever since I read his novel Tangerine six or seven years ago, so when I saw this lurking at the library where I work, I thought I’d pick it up. While, unfortunately, I don’t think it’s as good as Tangerine, I still enjoyed reading it and ended up liking it a lot.
(I don’t necessarily agree that that’s what the book is about– I don’t think Roberta was waiting for anyone– but it’s the only summary that wasn’t spoiler-y.)
Roberta gave me some problems at first. She’s emotionally stunted, and not very perceptive to what people are thinking or feeling around her (or towards her). That changes as the book progresses, but it does make for some boring reading. Luckily the other characters aren’t so emotionally stunted, and though we have to view them through Roberta’s limited perspective, they still have a life of their own. There’s lots of depth to them, and that was a relief considering how much Roberta was annoying me. Luckily, the book really moves once Roberta starts re-developing emotions; I zoomed through the last 200 pages and landed most satisfyingly at the end.
There’s a lot going on in Crusader: racism, poverty, murder, corrupt politicians (and, slightly, corrupt media), suicide, parental neglect, first menstruation, environmentalism, and more. Actually, listing all that out made me think of all the Judy Bloom novels I’ve read. It does kinda sound like one, huh? Anyway.
I liked that even though there’s all this horrible stuff going on, none of it is relayed in excruciating detail. There’s no pity parties going on, nor any bashed-on-the-head morality tales. I liked that it was all just neatly laid out, like “this is how things are; ignore it or change it.” And yes, you can tell Bloor has a purpose for putting those things in, and that he wants his readers to learn from reading Crusader, but that’s not always a bad thing. I liked that he let me decide on my own what I wanted to get from Crusader. And there’s so much of it!
The characters and the delicate writing were what pulled the book along; the plot was good, too, but I think there was almost too much going on. I couldn’t help but think that maybe focusing on one or two problems would have been better, if only to keep the book from getting bogged down with so much slog. However, all the issues in the book are rather neatly tied together, and I very rarely felt as overwhelmed as I might have been if a different author had written it.
It was an interesting experience, and a wonderful way for me to spend my late-night reading time. However, I wouldn’t recommend reading this first if you’ve never read Bloor before. Start with Tangerine, and then maybe Crusader.
Read: February 2009