The Traitor Game by B.R. Collins

Rating: 7/10 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 
Title: The Traitor Game
Author: B.R. Collins
Genre: Young Adult
URL: Bloomsbury Publishing
Price: US$ 16.99
Summary [from the publisher]:
Michael and Francis share a secret passion for Evgard, the fantasy world they have created together. But then Michael finds a note in his locker, revealing that the boys’ secret is out. Convinced Francis has been making fun of him all along; Michael gets revenge by telling the school bully that Francis is gay, guaranteeing that Francis will be next in line for a pounding. But did Francis really betray his friend? Or is Michael the real traitor?

This gripping story unfolds as both a contemporary story and an engrossing fantasy that brings the world of Evgard to life. Gamers, fantasy fans, and anyone who has felt alone in the world will be drawn to this unforgettable debut novel that tackles difficult issues without hesitation.
My review:
After enduring bullying at his old school, Michael Thompson gets a fresh start at St. Anselm’s. His mother introduces him to Francis Harris and the boys become fast friends. They have lots in common. Both are outsiders, don’t make friends easily, and share a common fantasy world called Evgard. The boys meet every weekend, spending long hours crafting detailed maps and working out Evgard’s history.

Trouble starts when Evgard’s secret is out and Michael believes Francis is responsible. Instead of confronting Francis with his suspicions, Michael exacts his own revenge by outing Francis to the school bully, causing a deep rift in their friendship.

Evgard’s characters unfold parallel to the events in Michael’s and Francis’ lives and while I found the fantasy story more compelling, neither story would work very well without the other. Michael’s low self-esteem, self-destructive behavior, homophobia, and inability to communicate effectively with his mother and Francis all show how the earlier bullying incidents have affected his life.

The characters were believable and the dialogue and thoughts felt authentic, but I had a difficult time caring much for them, especially Michael. Though the story is well written and complex, it took me a couple of weeks to get through it, mostly because Michael annoyed me so much and the pace was rather slow. I tired quickly of Michael’s hesitant way of communicating and his introspection, particularly when I felt that so many problems and misunderstandings could have been avoided if only he spoke up and was honest with those who cared about him.