♦This post contains affiliate links. You don’t pay any extra, and I make a small commission.♦
♦Please see my Disclosure tab for more information.♦
Book Review of Virtually Me by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown
I will NEVER forget March of 2020. It was awful. Several teachers and I, along with our principal, crowded into our small front office to watch our governor declare that school would be shut down for two weeks. My part-time teaching position with a dream class turned into a full-time desk job overnight. I spent HOURS creating new lessons out of old so the students could hopefully teach themselves (Many parents still had to work, even if they were at home, and didn’t have time to help their children.) the math they still needed to learn. Even with all my best efforts, virtual school did not work, especially for the children in lower SES homes. Very few students showed up to our daily meet-ups, and even fewer did the lessons or the assignments. Of course, that two weeks turned into the entire rest of the school year. Most of my students fell behind, despite the fact that I spent the whole day in front of my computer creating step-by-step videos and resources for them to use, and offered office hours for those who needed help. Let’s just say I have a lot of things to say about Virtually Me by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown.
A mysterious package.
A new school.
A chance to be someone new.
A new virtual reality school where students get a fresh start.
The pandemic was rough on everyone, especially since school went from being a fun place where you could hang out with your friends to a bunch of heads in small rectangles all trying to talk at once. For Bradley, Edelle, Hunter, Jasper, and Keiko, that’s about to change. A mysterious box arrives at each of their houses, and they’re invited to attend a virtual school. More than just being online, they’ll be able to create an avatar of themselves and interact with their friends and other classmates in real time using VR headsets. For each of them, that presents an opportunity to become someone they’re not, or someone they haven’t been. For Bradley, it’s a chance to come out of a self-imposed shell. Edelle hopes everyone will see her for who she really is, not just for how she looks. Hunter is looking forward to pretending he’s still the person he was last year. Jasper wants to get over past assumptions. And for Keiko, it’ll allow her to disappear into the crowd. For all of them, it’s a chance to see just how much they’ve assumed about each other in the past and maybe an opportunity to become friends.
My Book Review:
As you can tell, I’m not the best one to be reviewing this book. I am VERY biased against online school. Online school might work ok in some homes where the parents are very engaged and can work closely with their children, but in my experience, it does not work for the majority of students or families. Maybe you had a different experience, but I haven’t found one teacher who thought it worked well.
So…in order to read this book I had to look at it as I would an Avengers movie—not really possible, but ok, I’ll entertain it. Looking at it from that angle, this is a cute story. There are some great characters, and they learn many valuable lessons. The characters make the story. They’re each so different, and that’s what is so great! It’s how a normal class would be. I did have a hard time remembering who was who, but I figured it out in the end.
When I first started reading Bradley’s story, I had no idea what K-pop was. I totally had to look it up! My kids aren’t into it at all so that was new for me. Each of the students highlighted has his or her own voice, unique characteristics, and seems authentic. For me, I found some of them more relatable than others. They were each well developed, though. You definitely got a good sense of who each character really was.
The story of the virtual reality school (to me) doesn’t seem plausible or like a good idea, but since we’re going with it, I bet middle-graders will love the idea and wish they could go to a school like that. Since this book is written for middle-graders, their opinions matter more than mine do. It is a clever idea, and the descriptions of how it all works out are pretty good. I (once again) don’t think having tweens or teenagers wear VR goggles all day long is a good idea, but I’m sure they’d love it.
I liked that each character had a reason to be going to the VR school, and how it showed a struggle they were having. The reason I liked that was because it helps to know that you’re not the only one struggling with something difficult, and it gave each of them something hard to overcome.
Our school had students wear masks for almost all of the 2020-2021 schoolyear. I think it was the very last week of school that the governor said we could take the masks off. Most of the students took the masks off immediately; however, there were a couple of my students that were too scared to take them off. It felt too vulnerable to take them off–people could see acne, freckles, scars, big noses, crooked teeth, etc. Back to the story–I didn’t like that some of these students were allowed to create avatars that were completely different because they wanted to hide their real selves. Their avatars became their virtual masks.
It’s too easy to hide your real self in the virtual world. You hide behind anonymity and can be cruel or obnoxious and not see the consequences. You could be super nice and caring and not see the consequences. You don’t get to see facial expressions or body language. You don’t get the hug or the plate of cookies, and you don’t see the tears. Personally, I think we should be encouraging kids to get off devices rather than making them out to be a solution for all their problems.
Thankfully, these characters made real connections, worked through, or overcame, some of their struggles, and learned many great lessons. These students learned to be themselves and not be ashamed. They learned not to judge people by their looks or social statuses. Another thing they learned was that a virtual world isn’t the best kind of world—real life connections are what make life worth living.
Despite not agreeing with the premise of the book, I did think it had a good moral in the end. Middle-graders will love it! I’d just make sure to talk to my child about proper online etiquette and how hiding behind these avatars (masks) didn’t solve their problems. Being vulnerable and making connections with real-life people doesn’t always solve problems, either, but at least you have someone to help you through so you’re not alone.
Content Rating: PG (There isn’t any profanity or intimacy in this book. There isn’t really any violence, but there are some bullies.)
Age Recommendation: Middle-graders (4th-6th) to about 13 years-old.
My Rating: 3/5
Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.