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Review: Roll for Initiative by Jaime Formato

Roll for Initiative by Jamie Formato cover shows a diverse group of girls sitting in a cluster around one girl with her arms crossed.

Roll for Initiative
Jaime Formato
Running Press Kids
Published September 27, 2022

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Roll for Initiative

Perfect for fans of Dungeons & Dragons, Raina Telgemeier, and Jessica Kim, a heartfelt coming-of-age middle grade novel about finding your voice and believing in your best geeky self.

Riley Henderson has never taken a bus to school in her entire life. Or made an afterschool snack, or finished her homework on her own, or—ewww—done her own laundry. That’s what her older brother Devin was for.

But now Devin’s gone. He’s off in California attending a fancy college gaming program while Riley is stuck alone in Florida with her mom. That is, until a cool nerd named Lucy gives Riley no choice but to get over her shyness and fear of rejection and become friends. The best part is . . . both girls are into Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, playing D&D was something Riley and Devin used to do together, with Devin as the dungeon master, guiding Riley through his intricately planned campaigns. So, of course, Riley is more than a little nervous when Lucy suggests that she run a campaign for them. For the chance at a friend, though, she’s willing to give it a shot. 

Soon, their party grows and with the help of her new D&D friends, Riley discovers that not only can she function without Devin, she kind of likes it. She figures out that bus thing, totes the clothes down to the laundry room and sets up her D&D campaigns right there on the slightly suspect folding table, makes her own snacks and dinner— the whole deal. But when Devin runs into trouble with his program and returns home, it’s pretty clear, even to Riley, that since he can’t navigate his own life, he’s going to live Riley’s for her. Now she has to help Devin go back to college and prove to her mom that she can take care of herself . . . all before the upcoming Winter-Con.

It’s time to Roll for Initiative.

My Review

Oh my gosh, this book! It’s got so many great layers. First, I really enjoyed the way the Dungeons and Dragons games were captured in the text. The Dungeon Master’s narration is written in italics, so it feels really atmospheric and stands apart from the characters’ dialogue and questions. I thought that was super clever.

The story contains some really great character arcs and contrasts, too. For example, there’s a strong contrast between Devin and Riley. At first, Riley sees herself as kind of a bumbling goof next to her brother, who has everything hyper-organized and planned to within an inch of its life. As she begins to stretch her wings and builds some confidence in herself, she begins to see that her style– more creative and spontaneous– is both valuable and valid. She starts having her own preferences instead of deferring to his.

She also notices similarities between her brother and her friend, Hannah, though at first, she thinks they’re nothing alike. Once she sees the common ground between them, it really helps her formulate how to break through the fog of fear and grief her brother is caught in.

I loved the creativity of the D&D games, and the ways the characters interacted came across as so genuine and full of heart. I would play tabletop with Riley any day of the week. Readers who enjoy video games or D&D should obviously check this one out, but I think it would also appeal to readers in late elementary school navigating changing friendships.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Two of Riley’s friends are Black.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
“Heck” is used a few times, but nothing stronger.

Romance/Sexual Content

Spiritual Content

Violent Content
Some descriptions of game characters’ actions in a role-playing game.

Drug Content

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