McCulloch’s (The Oathbreaker’s Shadow) vividly imagined Toronto-set middle grade series opener intertwines smartphone technology with the hallmarks of classic science fiction via a fun, insightful narrative and bright voice. Lacey Chu, 12, lives with her mother in a “corporate mini city” that’s grown up around the campus of Moncha Corp., developer of baku—robotic companions that blend companionship with smartphone utility. Her dream is to begin seventh grade at the highly competitive, corporate-run Profectus Academy with an eye toward becoming a baku creator like her father, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Lacey is rejected despite excellent mechanical and coding skills, but when she rescues a nonfunctioning, battered baku—a cat that she names Jinx—she’s suddenly admitted. After spending the summer repairing Jinx, she joins Profectus’s hypercompetitive world, navigating friendships, social changes, academic excellence, and her decidedly and uncharacteristically headstrong baku. With a sharp eye toward the rising awareness of device addiction and a keen sense of wonder, McCulloch’s tale is a feast for the imagination that celebrates women in STEM fields. Ages 8–12. Agent: Molly Ker Hawn, the Bent Agency. (Jan.)
"An enjoyable read with just enough genuine friendship and suspense to draw readers in." - School Library Journal
"McCulloch's riveting tale will speak to children interested in STEM as well as any reader interested in intelligent, rapidly paced sf mysteries." - Booklist
"[A] vividly imagined Toronto-set middle grade series opener intertwines smartphone technology with the hallmarks of classic science fiction via a fun, insightful narrative and bright voice...With a sharp eye toward the rising awareness of device addiction and a keen sense of wonder, McCulloch's tale is a feast for the imagination that celebrates women in STEM fields." - Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review
"With plenty of appeal for any aspiring inventor or STEM enthusiast, this sci-fi adventure offers a novel approach to the robot-with-a-soul story that unfolds speedily alongside other genre tropes, like underground tinkers and corporate conspiracies...Readers will cling to the edge of their seats." - The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"A solid series starter for tinkerers and adventurers alike." - Kirkus Reviews
"This is a swift moving story that takes the time needed to develop its characters and relationships to the point where readers will genuinely care about the outcome...Recommended." - School Library Connection
"I raced through this book, and I want the sequel now, please and my own baku too! If you love fun, clever and thought-provoking near-future sci-fi, it's time you teamed up with Lacey and Jinx for a journey that's a little bit Golden Compass, a little bit Hunger Games, and all adventure." - Amie Kaufman, New York Times bestselling author
"The most compelling read of the year." - Evening Standard
Gr 3–7—Lacey Chu has been working her whole life toward being accepted to the elite Profectus Academy, a junior division of MonchaCorp, makers of the ubiquitous "baku" (part smartphone, part robotic pet). Admittance to the school comes with financial support, prestige, a guaranteed school-to-corporation pipeline job, and a top-level baku. Unfortunately, despite her expert fabrication skills, Lacey is rejected from Profectus, or is she? When she fixes a broken and abandoned baku, she finds herself on the fast track after all. Jinx, her found cat baku, is more than he seems. Unlike other bakus, he can think and act for himself, and he can connect deeply with his human partners. With Jinx at her side, Lacey quickly becomes embroiled in the school's Baku Battle culture (a science fair meets the "Hunger Games") and in the dangerous dark side of MonchaCorp. Marketed as the "Golden Compass for the digital age," this title doesn't have much in common with the "His Dark Materials" series beyond the animal companions—it's an exposition-heavy ode to capitalism that leans heavily on common tropes (a mysteriously missing parent, a broke kid at a fancy prep school, a school obsessed with gratuitous battle culture, a well-connected nemesis, and a cute older boy). An unquestioned admiration for start-up culture and tech monopolies is woven into the book's themes, although the evils of corporate competition are also addressed. But for all that it is an enjoyable read with just enough genuine friendship and suspense to draw readers in. The novel ends on a predictable cliffhanger, opening the door to sequels. VERDICT A thin but a fun read.—Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library
Even robot cats have a mind of their own.
All 12-year-old Canadian Lacey Chu's ever wanted was to become a companioneer like her idol, Monica Chan, co-founder of the largest tech firm in North America, Moncha Corp., and mastermind behind the baku. Bakus, "robotic pets with all the features of a smartphone," revolutionized society and how people interact with technology. As a companioneer, Lacey could work on bakus: designing, innovating, and building. When she receives a grant rejection from Profectus Academy of Science and Technology, a school that guarantees employment at Moncha Corp., she's devastated. A happenstance salvaging of a mangled cat baku might just change the game. Suddenly, Lacey's got an in with Profectus and is one step closer to her dream. Jinx, however, is not quite like the other bakus—he's a wild cat that does things without commands. Together with Jinx, Lacey will have to navigate competitive classmates and unsettling corporate secrets. McCulloch effectively strikes a balance between worldbuilding and action. High-stakes baku battles demonstrate the emotional bond between (robotic) pet and owner. Readers will also connect to the relationships the Asian girl forges with her diverse classmates, including a rivalry with Carter (a white boy who's the son of Moncha's other co-founder, Eric Smith), a burgeoning crush on student Tobias, who's black, and evolving friendships new and old. While some mysteries are solved, a cliffhanger ending raises even more for the next installment.
A solid series starter for tinkerers and adventurers alike. (Science fiction. 8-13)