I picked this book off of the bookmobile at work to read during my down-time, and I finished it today, due partly to its middle-school target demographic, but mostly to its breakneck pacing. The story is about Max, a student at Vanguard middle school in the near future. She befriends a new robot named Fuzzy for its (his) fuzzy programming capabilities: the robot can reprogram itself. His creators have him in a middle school to learn how to think on his feet and react to social situations, and he ends up doing much more of that than anyone had thought was possible.
The novel explores emergent A.I. as well, through the school’s robotic vice principal, Barbara, who seems to have a vendetta against Max as she continuously gives her discipline tags and re-grades her tests to make her appear worse off than she is. I thought Barbara was the most interesting character in the novel, since her emergent properties are slowly revealed to the reader (spoiler alert, I suppose?). Barbara was also the vector through which the most biting social commentary came through: Angleberger and Dellinger take hits at No Child Left Behind and the practice of near-constant testing with great results.
The more global sub-plot was less developed, which is a shame. There are some complex geopolitical machinations going on in the world of Fuzzy, which the teenagers reading this book probably wouldn’t find interesting. I wish there were another novel set in this world for adults, that could delve into SunTzuCo’s (great name, by the way) dealings on Mars and what they found there, as well as the wider social fabric in America that’s only hinted at in this novel. In a world where nearly everything is automated, there’s bound to be interesting frictions. However, this book focuses on the school, Max, and her friends, which made for a fun read at ground-level about a near-future possibility.