As the 20th century draws to a close, Sienna is intent on having one last perfect summer with her friends, who are all her co-workers at the Game Champ video game store. Sienna is a bit of a control freak, but she gets along fine most of the time with Art, the aspiring comic book artist; Hope, the grungy tough girl; Jo, the conflicted kid with controlling parents, and Sid, the wannabe rock god. They all work (or “work” as the case may be) for Tim, a kind-hearted middle-aged dude with an adorable dog.
When their evil landlord insists on hiking up the rent or shutting down Game Champ for good, the employees brainstorm ways to raise the required funds. But each of the teenagers has personal issues that threaten to derail all their plans. Will Sienna be able to keep them all together and on task, or will everything blow up in her face despite all her best efforts?
Six years later, Sienna is coming back to her hometown to attend the funeral of one of her former friends. She worries that no one will want to see her again after everything ended so badly. But the reunion has more than one surprise in store for all the former Game Champ employees.
Give logic the evening off when you’re diving into this mostly gentle (by adult standards anyway) coming-of-age tale of five different kids struggling to make the best of their lives. Hope and Jo are easily the most sympathetic characters, having gone through the most. I also really enjoyed spending time with Art’s large and subtextually Jewish family. Katherine Lobo’s art in the pages showcasing his apartment and its building seem to have a bit more verve than elsewhere, tho it’s easy to be charmed regardless by his entire situation (with cute kids and animals galore!)
That said, I feel like Sid got the short end of the stick story-wise, tho his bandmate L-Worm is a total, if inappropriate, hoot. This definitely had “Empire Records but in a game store” vibes, with a more substantial LGBTQ+ subplot. I was absolutely rooting for all these kids, and was glad to be able to spend an hour or so absorbed in their company and story, with above average art and a lovely message of acceptance (tho I do think Sienna was 100% beating herself up way too hard over everything.)
Good Game, Well Played by Rachael Smith, Katherine Lobo & Justin Birch was published May 3 2022 by Mad Cave Studios and is available from all good booksellers, including