Head Games

Head Games

4.3 15
by Mariah Fredericks

View All Available Formats & Editions


I'd give it a C-.

That's what fifteen-year-old Judith Ellis thinks, anyway. Reality is her former best friend not talking to her this year. Reality is her dad living three thousand miles away. Reality is what happened outside 158 West Seventy-first Street, New York City.

To Judith, fantasy rules. Particularly in the Game, which she



I'd give it a C-.

That's what fifteen-year-old Judith Ellis thinks, anyway. Reality is her former best friend not talking to her this year. Reality is her dad living three thousand miles away. Reality is what happened outside 158 West Seventy-first Street, New York City.

To Judith, fantasy rules. Particularly in the Game, which she plays online with a bunch of strangers she knows only as the Witch, the Drunken Warrior, and Irgan the Head Case. In the gaming world it's strictly alternative identities. No one knows who you are, no one gets too close.

But one player in the Game is coming after her -- and he's a lot closer than Judith guesses.

Close enough to see her, close enough to talk with her.

Close enough to like her.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This ambitious second novel from the author of The True Meaning of Cleavage covers roughly the same terrain-alienation among affluent New York City teens-with mixed success. The story starts strong, capturing the obsessive pull that an online computer game has on 14-year-old Judith Ellis, who freaks when one of her online opponents attacks the character she's playing. Too coincidentally the "psycho killer" from the game turns out to be her "juvenile delinquent" neighbor, Jonathan. Identities revealed, the two drop the online game to create their own, to the horror of Judith's overprotective, divorced mother. This budding friendship helps to compensate for Judith's isolation at school, where she's been dumped by former best friend, Leia. Judith dreads walking past Leia's apartment, though the author does not reveal until late in the story that the heroine is not running from her ex-friend but rather from the memory of having been attacked in the lobby of Leia's building (an attack she has kept secret from all but Jonathan). In an interesting twist, Jonathan helps Judith confront her fear; the development of their relationship is the novel's greatest strength. However, Judith's possibly confused sexuality is one of several threads left undeveloped, and the subplot in which she tutors a "fat, rich... airhead" has a predictable outcome. Smooth writing and authentic dialogue add an unnaturally quiet tone to a book that brims with conflicts but never quite manages to bring them into sharp relief. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Fifteen-year-old Judith Ellis, a child of divorce, attends an academically tough prep school and excels at The Game, a fantasy activity. By day, Connolly High School is Judith's reality, while at night she morphs into Terryn, a successful thief. Reality includes an awkward, long-distance relationship with her father in Seattle, the mysterious loss of her best friend, and a weird boy in her apartment building. Judith becomes curious about the boy and eventually befriends him, with some surprising results. They form an uneasy alliance and create an offline fantasy game. As reality starts to fuse with fantasy, Judith becomes aware of herself in new ways. This story will connect with teens who don't fit in, or have been banished from a group for one reason or another. It describes the role of fantasy gaming in the lives of teens. Recommended for older middle and high school students, especially for misfits searching to find their place in the social strata and hierarchy of school. KLIATT Codes: S—Recommended for senior high school students. 2004, Simon & Schuster, Pulse, 260p., Ages 15 to 18.
—Holley Wiseman
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-The author of The True Meaning of Cleavage (Atheneum, 2003) again perceptively explores the psyche of teenagers. Judith, 15, believes it's safest to "be invisible." The previous year she was attacked as she walked alone at night and still feels powerless to tell anyone about the incident. Her former best friend refuses to acknowledge her existence and her divorced father lives 3000 miles away. The only place where she feels free to be anyone she wants to be is in the online role-playing game she's addicted to, in which her character is always male. After Irgan, her Internet enemy, forfeits the right to kill her off, Judith drops out of the Game and becomes determined to learn his identity. She's surprised and intrigued to discover that he's a teenager with a reputation as a druggie and screw-up who lives in her apartment building. Despite her mother's misgivings, Judith and Jonathan become close as they act out a live role-playing game where there are no rules. Jonathan helps her deal with the attack and shows her that it's OK to be a girl. Judith also finds real friendship with Katie, an insecure girl she tutors in math. This novel realistically portrays young adults trying to find themselves, fit in, and resist the labels put on them. Judith is a strong character who will appeal to readers who like books by Sarah Dessen, Ann Brashares, Megan McCafferty, and Jaclyn Moriarty. Teens will also like the gaming and role-playing aspects.-Sharon Rawlins, Piscataway Public Library, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fredericks's story opens with Judith Ellis defending herself from a psycho killer: an opponent in The Game. She soon learns that her arch-nemesis is her reputedly bad-boy neighbor, Jonathan. The two begin a new game, and Judith feels secure acting as Gareth until she realizes that in her fantasy world she can't be herself. As Judith, she can care about Jonathan and establish her independence from her mother, begin to recover from a sexual attack, and accept the loss of her best friend when they find different interests. Not only is the narration set up in an interesting way, with the first half called "Gareth" and the second "Judith," but Judith's gender issues are interesting as well. Since her attack, she prefers to take on male roles while gaming, and while definitely attracted to Jonathan, Judith wonders if she ever had feelings for Leia, her former best friend. Fredericks has a gift for replicating teen vernacular; the end of her story leaves readers with the same wistful feeling as "Game Over." (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
"[Will leave] readers with the same wistful feeling as 'Game Over.'"
Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

All it is, is a little pressure.

And just like that, everything changes.

You think about all the channels, all the wiring. The signal from your brain running through your nervous system to the tip of your finger. From the mouse through the cable, then...out there, miles and miles of electricity, snapping and crackling down the line, and then it all comes screaming right back at you.

And there it is, your answer.

Which might explain why I've been sitting here for three minutes, unable to do something as simple as bend my finger.

Just a little pressure...

Nope, can't do it.

I've got the cursor in place. It's right over the dice symbol, ready to give me the number.

I'm just not ready to ask for it.

I think about numbers. One through six. How much difference is there between one and six? Between two and five? Three and four? Almost none.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a new message.


I resist the temptation to type the symbol for the finger sign.

Because I am. Scared? But he doesn't have to know that.

There has to be a connection between the noun die and the verb die. It can't be a coincidence that this little cube of chance has the same name as the ultimate bad roll.

Three is not death, I remind myself. Four is not death. Neither is five or six.

Only one and two.

I've earned a four or a five, I think. I've been playing really well.

And I've been attacked. And by someone on my team. That should earn me something, right?

But you can't earn anything in a game of chance. Luck isn't earned. It just is.

It just is.

Time to throw myself upon the mercy of the universe.

I think: Click. But my finger doesn't move.

Another message: If you kick a dog and it doesn't move -- is it dead?

I type back: If you kick a dog, it might jump up and bite your ass.

I think: Things you can make happen with just a finger.

Shoot someone...drop the bomb...piss someone off....

Pick your nose.

I smile.

Okay, do it now, do it now with a smile, do it with a finger up in his face, do it.

No one or two.

No one or two.

Threefourfivesix. Threefourfivesix.

I fix my eyes right on the screen. No looking away. Press.

After all that, it's easy. Just press and it's done.

Can't take it back now.

Snap, snap, screaming through the wires, the question, the answer, the request, the reward or the punishment.

What do we have for her, what do we have?

We have...


And I am still alive.

My mom knocks on the door, tells me it's time for dinner. I tell her, "In a minute."

She opens the door. "Judith. Now."

Now I am here.

"Here" is the kitchen. "Here" is the plate on the table. Salt and pepper shakers. The mail stacked up on the counter. My mom eating.

I am here now, me again.

But the Game's still in my head. Buzzing and crackling, like in the Frankenstein movies, where they shoot the monster up with electricity.

There was a 33 percent chance I could have rolled a one or a two. If I had rolled a one or two, I would have been stuck with a very low level of strength.

Irgan, the guy who attacked me, rolled a three. But he has an extremely high level of aggression. Aggression can mean you don't need as much strength.

I can't believe he attacked.

Can't believe I actually survived....

My mom says, "You sit too close to the screen."

My mom -- the other person at the table obsessed with the Game.

"It's really not good for your eyes," she says.

I nod over my plate.

"You think I'm nagging, but I'm not."

I smile. "No, I know."

But she is. Nagging. The problem is not the screen. Or my eyes.

My mom just hates the Game.

She sighs dramatically. "I remember when people used to play games with other people."

"I do play with other people," I remind her.

"I mean people you can see. People who are there."

"They are there," I say patiently. "They just happen to be in other places while they're there."

Like Timbuktu. Or Anchorage. Or Third Avenue.

Now, if I had rolled a three...

My mom's voice. "Do you know anything about these people? Who they are?"

"What does it matter?"

"It does matter," she says. "It matters because there are sick people out there."

Mom's biggest fear. Perverts on the Internet.

It's a joke. The new bogeyman.

I should make a joke, actually. Something about monsters under the bed.

But for some reason my throat's tight -- whatever I say, it'll come out wrong. It's the images in my mother's head. Drooling old men reaching out to put their hands on you. Their gross, sticky fingers. Come here, little girl.

Joke. Think of a joke.

I grin. "Well, then it's definitely a good thing that there's a lot of distance between me and them."

"And you'll keep it that way?" She's all intense. "Someone asks to meet you, you say no?"

"I say no."

For a few minutes we eat. My mom tries to decide if she's satisfied, while I try to be as small as possible, give her no target. I know we're both thinking, Why do we have to fight about this? Except my mom's also thinking, If only she'd quit, and I'm thinking, If only she'd quit.

My mom is not the worst. She tries. Only sometimes too hard.

Then from the outside hallway we hear the rumble of the elevator, someone getting off on our floor. Our kitchen's right by the front door, so you can hear everyone coming and going.

Well, you can hear the Heitmans. They're the only other family that lives on our hall.

My mom pretends to be eating. But I can tell she's listening. Trying to figure out: Is it Mrs. Heitman? Mr. Heitman? Or Jonathan?

It's almost nine o'clock. It could be Mrs. Heitman coming home from work.

It can't be Mr. Heitman coming home from work. Mr. Heitman doesn't have a job.

Could be Jonathan. Coming home from wherever.

The door to the Heitmans' apartment opens. Closes.

My mom waits a second, then says in a low voice, "I saw her the other day."

"Who? Mrs. Heitman?"

My mom nods. "She looked completely exhausted."

I shake my head and Mom shakes hers, too. We may not agree on the Game, but we do agree about Mrs. Heitman. We feel bad for her. And we like her. Even though we don't know her that well.

We should, when you think about it. Know her better. The Heitmans have lived next door as long as we've been here -- practically forever.

But the Heitmans aren't really the kind of people you know. They're the kind of people you stay away from. Not Mrs. H., but Mr. Heitman sort of. And Jonathan definitely.

My mom reaches across the table and squeezes my hand. Like, Maybe my kid spends too much time on the computer, but she's not a psycho like Jonathan Heitman.

Then she gives me a big smile. "Hey, when's Leia coming around? I miss that girl."

I take a drink of soda. I wish there were a way, when you don't ever want to think about somebody again, that you could erase the memory of their existence from other people's minds. Because as long as they're in someone's head, they exist. Which means you end up talking about them.

Which means you have to remember they exist.

"I mean, now that the school year's started, and you guys are back at Connolly, I'm assuming you'll be as inseparable as ever."

Lie or tell the truth?

I can't decide, so I end up not saying anything.

"How was her summer?" My mom's still on it.

I concentrate on my plate. "I don't really know."

"You don't know?"


My mom frowns, then asks, "What? You guys have a fight?"

"No, we just..." I shrug. "I don't know."

She waits for a second, then says, "Well, whatever it is, I can't imagine you won't work it out."

I nod. Because I don't know what else to say.

"Maybe you should give her a call."

"Yeah, I did." That comes out wrong, and I start forking up carrots.

It's a weird thing: When you get loud, everyone else gets quiet. I can feel my mom dying to ask, "So? What happened?"

But instead she changes the subject. And I let her.

Because she's right. She really doesn't want to know.

rdLater, as I wash the dishes, I think about aggression. When someone attacks and they're stronger than you...

Way more aggressive than you...

How do you fight back? How do you win?

What can you use to defend yourself?

Intelligence, for one thing. Weaponry, obviously.


I'm not sure if I have luck or not.

In fact, I'm fairly sure I don't.

You can always start over, I tell myself. It is only a game.

Only it's not.

Copyright © 2004 by Mariah Fredericks

Meet the Author

Mariah Fredericks is the author of the bestselling novel The True Meaning of Cleavage, which Meg Cabot called "Laugh-out-loud funny and way twisted!" She is also the author of Head Games, Crunch Time, and two previous books in the In the Cards series, Love and Fame.

Mariah accepts that cats are her superior in every way and would never dream of insulting one by trying to own it. However, she has been reading tarot cards since she was a teenager, and while she knows that it is lame to believe in fortune-telling, her readings keep coming true, so she keeps doing them. She has even written a tarot guide called The Smart Girl's Guide to Tarot.

She lives with her husband, son, and basset hound in Jackson Heights, New York. Visit her online at www.mariahfredericks.com or www.myspace.com/mariahfredericks.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Head Games 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Johnathan is so dark like aand lovable<3
kc8D More than 1 year ago
In a good way. I liked it, i just hated the ending though : /
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
the ending leaves room for a sequel but really leaves the rest up to the reader
Guest More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book. I thought it was excellent. I didn't like how it ended. I would LOVE for there to be a sequel to it. That would make the ending MUCH better!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i loved this book. i could never put it down.i didn't like the ending though it just left you hanging. but over all you'll love it!! recomend to everyone!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i loved this book! its great! the ending was pretty cool i just thought it left me hanging... i dont like to use my imagination to end it.....all it said was he was there... but this book was soooo cool... i loved it! it was a very good read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was sooo good, I loved everything about it, even the questioning ending, I read this book in about 2 hours, I got it the week after it was in stores, and I've read it 3 times now, it never gets old, its awesome
Guest More than 1 year ago
i thought that this book was great! i read it in less than a day. i liked it so much i think that ill have to read it again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i read this book in 3 hours its a great book for young teens(13-15) i never put this book down...i always wanted to know what happened next youll love it
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had an opportunity to read an advance copy of this book and was extremely impressed. It seems too good to be limited to the 'young adult' category. The narrative voice is strong, original, accessible, and thoroughly likeable. I read the book to screen it for my daughter, but have carried the characters around in my head ever since-- something that normally only happens after I've read the best that adult fiction has to offer. The main character, Judith, is a teenage girl who lives with her divorced mom, while dealing with many of the problems today's teenagers face-- sexuality, alienation, peer pressure, divorced parents. The author, however, takes a fresh approach by getting inside Judith's head and letting Judith do the talking. This is a main character who is articulate, honest, gutsy, emotional, gloomy, alienated, angry, strong, confused, intelligent, frightened, funny, and vulnerable. (In other words: a real person.) Teens will be attracted to this book by the fact that it involves the Internet and all that 'the Internet' implies--chat boards, secret identities, and role- playing games. Adults will be attracted to this book by the creative, conversational narrative, and the main characters' psychological complexities. Although the book may be marketed more strongly to female readers, teen male readers will be pleasantly surprised; the main male character- -Jonathan--is compelling and complex. He embodies many of the tough issues teenage boys face every day, while never becoming a stereotype. (Is he a thug or a hero? Is he sinister or is he simply struggling to find his way to manhood in a really screwed-up world?) A refreshingly original take on the problems of growing up in the Information Age, this book is intelligent and complex, but remains an easy read, primarily because Judith's 'voice' is so approachable and consistent.
WyluliWolf More than 1 year ago
Honestly, this book was not what I expected. Reading the back, I expected it to be more about gaming and the internet. It starts off with that, but doesn't really stay there long. Judith, the main character, realizes that a guy living in her building is one of the gamers that she had played with (briefly) at the beginning of the book. The rest of the book covers her relationship with him as she realizes that maybe his reputation as a bad boy is worse than it should be and that she sorta likes the guy after all. Judith ends up meeting with the guy to come up with their own version of "the game" and their relationship developes more from there. Overall, not a bad book and a pretty short read so if it sounds interesting, check it out.