Didn’t See That Coming by Jesse Q. Sutanto focuses on a minor character in Well, That Was Unexpected, but it’s still very readable as a standalone. Teenage Kiki (Sharlot’s cousin in WTWU) loves playing the MMO Warfront Heroes, but she doesn’t love being harassed as a girl gamer, so she starts playing under the most anonymous male-coded name ever, DudeBro10. As DudeBro10, she can participate in battles and instances without anyone telling her she sucks because she’s a girl, or trying to date her because she’s a real live gamer girl, or sending gross threats, or asking for nudes, or, well, you get the reasoning. It’s depressing that this is still a thing, I feel like I’ve been writing about this for decades. So Kiki’s fake persona is an understandable deception, and a fun thematic followup to the double-catfishing romance of WTWU.
In her offline life, Kiki’s parents decide to transfer her to a prestigious prep school, with a focus on traditional values. In addition to separating from her old friends and old classes, Kiki is just discovering that for all the positive talk about gender equality, there’s actually a lot of extra pressure on girls.
I particularly enjoyed discovering the no-dating dating double standards — obviously no students are allowed to date and the school has strict policies about campus behavior, but plenty of students are dating and the school also has a big spring dance. There’s an upscale Chinese/Indo flavor to the dating rules, too, with special gifts from a boyfriend’s mom to a girlfriend’s mom.
At home, as DudeBro10, Kiki has a gaming buddy, who lives in Singapore. She lives in Indonesia, close enough to play in the right timezone but too far to bump into each other and be revealed as a girl. When she mentions her new school, he mentions that actually he’s in Indonesia, too. At the same school, of course. In her class, too.
I mean, obviously we all DID see that coming, since finding out the person you’ve been superclose to online is a different gender offline is already in loads of gaming novels, from 88 Names to Ready Player One. But that’s kind of the point, Sutanto can definitely write a completely twisted and shocking story, but that’s not what this book is.
Didn’t See That Coming is about a teenage girl discovering that even though society claims to be equal, there are extra challenges for girls. Even though school promises opportunities for every student who studies hard, there are extra advantages for certain families and relationships. Even though there are anti-harassment policies online and in school, somehow the bullies keep getting away with it, and there are penalties for reporting. This makes a relevant and moving coming-of-age story, while Kiki’s gamer adventures and good times with true friends keep these life realizations from feeling depressing.
Really, I think the book goes a bit too far the opposite way. I love a gamer girl coming into her own, but the ending went over the top, with a hacker showing Kiki’s dramatic speech to the entire school, with students withdrawing en masse from the prestigious academy, etc. etc. It was disappointing to me because a lot of the realizations leading up to this point (even the guy who was convinced that legit dislike was his romantic enemies-to-lovers love story!) felt relatable, and the teen emotions are definitely real, and then the ending felt more and then everyone clapped. If you like the extremely dramatic endings that often go in teen movies, though, you probably won’t be disappointed.