The Perfect Robot

Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger proves that even robots can be good or bad.

Vanguard Middle School has been selected for a Robot Integration Program, and Max is extremely excited to be selected as the robot Fuzzy’s guide.  Vanguard is no stranger to robots as the vice principal, Barbara, is also an all-seeing and all-hearing robot.

This school is all about perfect data.  Students must constantly improve their scores as well as demonstrate impeccable behavior or they face being sent to an undesirable school.   Barbara is watching every moment and assigns discipline tags the moment anyone steps out of line.  It seems Max and her friends are always on the receiving end of these discipline tags.  Tensions are running tight for Max at home, and she wants to prove that she is a good student.  As a robot who can make decisions for himself, Fuzzy decides his primary mission is to help Max.  Meanwhile, there are people out to steal Fuzzy for a huge profit.

Max and her friends must face Barbara’s true motives and discover the real reason that a robot is being trained in their school.  I think readers who enjoy the movie “Big Hero 6” and technology/coding will appreciate this book.  This is also one of the 2020 Nutmeg nominees (the third I’ve read so far).

Keep Guessing

The Things You Find in Rock Pools by Greg Dunnett is quite the murder mystery. The main character, Billy, reminds me of Christopher, the autistic narrator from The curious incident of the dog in the night time.  Billy, a 12-year old, is inquisitive, intelligent about his passions and funny at times too. Despite the young narrator, I definitely do not recommend this for young adult readers! 

Billy decides to solve the mystery when a young female is killed while vacationing in his beach town. His first suspect proves innocent, and then signs begin pointing to his dad as the murderer. We discover that Billy and his dad are considered missing people and that his dad is wanted for murder. They go into hiding until ultimately the truth about everything is revealed.  Also, the story switches back and forth between Billy’s and the investigating officers’ perspectives.  

Most chapters closed with a cliffhanger so that I just had to keep reading. And the twists!! I was constantly changing my mind about whether a character was guilty or not. Well-crafted!  And now I must switch gears to some young adult literature for a while.

 

What’s in the Bag?

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman makes one wonder about how millions of dollars could change people and their relationships with each other.  The story starts with Erin digging a grave for her recent husband, then flashes back to the events leading to this point.

Erin and Mark are to be married.  During this time, Erin is in the early stages filming a documentary of three prisoners about to finish their prison sentences.  There’s Eddie, the former mobster, Holli, possible terrorist, and Alexa, jailed for euthanizing her mother.  Erin hopes to capture their experiences as they re-enter the world.  Meanwhile, her fiance has just lost his job in the financial sector which is a huge blow.

Once married, they set off on their shortened Tahitian honeymoon.  While scuba diving one day, they happen across a plane wreck in the ocean.  Mark extracts a duffel from the wreck, which they later find is full of millions of dollars worth of cash and diamonds.  There is also a cell phone and a USB drive.  They decide to keep the bag and its contents after much deliberation.  Unfortunately, Erin’s inquisitive nature leads her to turn on the cell phone, thereby providing a search point for those hoping to get the bag back.

Now they need to cover their tracks and hide the money in foreign bank accounts as quickly as possible.  Erin’s documentary subject, Eddie, becomes pivotal as he gives her advice about handling the valuable contents of the duffel and disconnecting herself from two murders.

This is a story with great potential, except for too many loose ends.  We never find out who the people in the plane wreck actually are.  Also, SPOILERS, it bothered me that  a couple who was so in love and who ultimately found an answer to financial stress would turn against each other as they did.  Finally, the closing of the book was meant to be shocking, but left me with a “so what?” feeling.

 

Sparks Ignite

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng kept popping up in my suggested reading list, and I’m SO glad that I finally selected it!  What constitutes a good life?  What defines a loving mother and a strong family?  These questions are grappled with throughout the book.

The story begins as the Richardson family home is burned to the foundation, and then backs up in order to clarify the events/characters leading up to this point.

Events began months earlier, when artist Mia and her daughter Pearl moved into the Richardson’s extra property, an apartment in Shaker Heights.  Shaker is an idyllic community where everyone shares common goals: success, kindness and the appearance of perfection.  Mia and Pearl have decided to finally grow some roots; Shaker Heights seems a good place to do this.

Moody, one of the Richardson boys, is the first to form a relationship with the newcomers.  He develops a close friendship with Pearl.  Eventually, Pearl becomes a fixture in the Richardson home, forming relationships with Moody’s sister, Lexie, and with his handsome brother, Trip.  Even Izzy, the youngest of the Richardsons and the family outcast, finds a kindred spirit in Mia.

The main problem starts when Mia gets involved in an adoption case between one of her coworkers, and Elena Richardson’s closest friend.  This prompts Elena to begin her own investigation of Mia, uncovering surprising parts of her past with Pearl.  Through this legal battle, relationships become more complex and entangled until eventually erupting.

Ng does an amazing job of building this conflict and developing her characters.  I felt myself pulled in multiple directions; identifying with some while wishing to be more like others.  Throughout it all is the undercurrent of Mia’s art, which showcases the need to observe things differently.  This is certainly true in art, but also true in life.

 

Building Friendship

Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan is a great parallel story taking place during the two main characters’ first week of fifth grade.  Weeks writes Joe’s chapters.  Joe mainly keeps to himself, primarily because of his APD (Auditory Processing Disorder), and because he is often the target of bully Dillon Samreen.

Varadarajan writes Ravi’s chapters.  Ravi’s family has just moved to the U.S. from India.  Ravi was extremely successful and popular in Bangalore, and he expects the same to be true in the U.S.  This isn’t exactly how it goes for him.

Over the course of the week, both boys endure being misunderstood (in their own unique situations), and the difficulty of being able to fit in as they are.  By the end of the week, they manage to erase their own false assumptions about each other and work together to overcome Dillon’s bullying.  Their respective family’s are pivotal in helping them through these tough first days.

The clear, fluid writing from both authors will engage student readers, and get them rooting for the boys to befriend each other.  Also, the authors’ backgrounds and process of writing together (described in the post-story interview) will promote conversation of writer’s craft.  It would be a cool exercise for students to try their own dual story with a writing partner.  (Can’t take the English teacher out of the librarian!)

Taking the Bus

I recently read a review which mentioned that The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart was a real tearjerker.  While I was a bit teary-eyed by the end of the book, I wouldn’t say it is a sad story.  Rather, I found it to be a tale of resiliency and both confronting and overcoming very difficult life challenges.

Coyote Sunrise is a twelve-year-old girl who is on the road with her dad, Rodeo.  They’ve been driving around the country in a school bus turned motor home for the past five years.  Her mom and two sisters died in a car accident back then, and the traveling has been an escape from facing this tragedy.

Coyote’s story starts at a gas station when she chooses a free kitten against her dad’s “no pets” rule.  We learn more about her relationship with her dad as she figures out how to persuade him to let her keep the kitten named Ivan.

The real story begins during a phone call to her grandmother, in which Coyote finds out that the park near her old home is being dug up.  It becomes her mission to get back to Washington state from Florida in order to retrieve the memory box that her mom and sisters had buried there before their deaths.  She can’t tell her dad her true motive because that would be a “no-go.”  From here, Coyote and her dad pick up other people needing a ride, all with their own stories to share.  There’s Lester the musician, Salvador and his mother who are escaping an abusive dad/husband, Val the misunderstood runaway, and finally Gladys, a goat needing a ride to her proper owners.

Through the miles they share, bonds are formed and the true destination of their journey is revealed.  Coyote (previously Ella) takes some major risks in order to recapture her family’s memories once and for all.  This is a true journey story, with great characters and a mission that you will care about.

Growing Stronger

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste is my first jump back into the realm of young adult literature.  It’s also my first Nutmeg of this year’s nominees.

What’s a jumbie?  It’s a collection of creepy creatures that live in the woods.  They are often used to scare/intrigue children in Caribbean fairy tales, but they’re real characters in this story.  Corinne has caught the interest of the powerful jumbie named Severine.  Severine works her magic to appear as a beautiful woman.  She plans to enchant Corinne’s dad and hopes to also take Corinne.  Ultimately, she wants to turn them into jumbies and use them (along with all the other jumbies) to take over the island on which they’ve been forced aside by humans.

Corinne, joined by three friends, her mother’s spirit, and a little help from a witch, must work to conquer Severine and prevent her dad from being lost forever.  In doing so, Corinne learns a surprising truth about herself.

This is an engaging tale with both cute and creepy characters, action and suspense.  I think kids will enjoy it!