With language appropriate for middle readers, THE GAME WITH NO NAME by L.G. Cunningham is a children’s novel aimed towards 9-12 year olds and there is much that might appeal, including the brother-sister main characters who are twins, Izzy and Noah Miller. In their family’s new home they discover a fanciful board game that sweeps them out of ordinary existence into a game that becomes real. In places this is a bit too directly a take-off on the popular feature film Jumanji, but that part of the concept is mostly fun. There are swamps to navigate, hippos to ride, puzzles to figure out. Equally potentially engaging are a multiplicity of themes such as sibling/family/friendship dynamics along with issues of pride, honesty, competition, and puppy love, though few of these are explored at great depth. Whereas once fantastical, unrealistic novels aimed at scaring a youthful audience towards delighting them with fright were all the rage, such as the 1990s R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, in light of the genuine scariness of the world this generation is experiencing and the overabundance of fear being lived through by contemporary children on a regular basis, emphasizing these emotions for entertainment purposes may not be the best idea. With a target audience that’s already often having trouble sleeping, why give kids (and their stressed-out parents) more reasons for insomnia?
Beyond this fundamental question/drawback there are also significant flaws in terms of story aspects, including character development. The kid characters don’t sound or feel enough like authentic children of this century, i.e. the girl does not sound/feel enough like a real 12-year-old female and the boys don’t sound/feel like actual prepubescent boys, so much improvement on this level is warranted. Emotions are habitually stated rather than shown. Dialogue is frequently stilted, as well as too often ‘on-the-nose,’ explicitly spelling out whatever each character is going through at any given moment, rather than subtly offering clues by what is said and done — or more importantly, not said and not done — so that readers themselves can have the pleasure of figuring out what’s going on for each individual beneath the surface.
With characters named Professor Prune, Dr. Bloom and Miss Merlot, L.G. Cunningham’s fantastical THE GAME WITH NO NAME is a colorful amalgamation of similar stories that nevertheless provides some fun.
~C.S. Holmes for IndieReader