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Maya and the Robot

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An illustrated middle grade novel about a forgotten homemade robot who comes to life just when aspiring fifth-grade scientist Maya needs a friend—and a science fair project.

Maya’s nervous about fifth grade. She tries to keep calm by reminding herself she knows what to expect. But then she learns that this year won’t be anything like the last. For the first time since kindergarten, her best friends Jada and MJ are placed in a different class without her, and introverted Maya has trouble making new friends.

She tries to put on a brave face since they are in fifth grade now, but Maya is nervous! Just when too much seems to be changing, she finds a robot named Ralph in the back of Mr. Mac’s convenience store closet. Once she uses her science skills to get him up and running, a whole new world of connection opens up as Ralph becomes a member of her family and Maya begins to step into her power.

224 pages, Hardcover

First published July 13, 2021

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About the author

Eve L. Ewing

54 books1,036 followers
Dr. Eve Louise Ewing is a writer and a sociologist of education from Chicago. Ewing is a prolific writer across multiple genres. Her 2018 book Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism & School Closings on Chicago's South Side explores the relationship between the closing of public schools and the structural history of race and racism in Chicago's Bronzeville community.

Ewing's first collection of poetry, essays, and visual art, Electric Arches, was published by Haymarket Books in 2017. Her second collection, 1919, tells the story of the race riot that rocked Chicago in the summer of that year. Her first book for elementary readers, Maya and the Robot, is forthcoming in 2020 from Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Her work has been published in many venues, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Nation, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Poetry Magazine, and the anthology American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time, curated by Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate of the United States. With Nate Marshall, she co-wrote the play No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, produced by Manual Cinema and commissioned by the Poetry Foundation. She also currently writes the Champions series for Marvel Comics and previously wrote the acclaimed Ironheart series, as well as other projects.

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5 stars
204 (35%)
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264 (45%)
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96 (16%)
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11 (1%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 121 reviews
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
1,909 reviews4,818 followers
August 7, 2021
In the past few years there have been some major conversations related to women in STEM particularly women of color in STEM. There have been major campaigns to encourage young women of color to consider STEM related fields as a career choice. Unsurprisingly, books play a major role in influencing, motivating, and encouraging youth. Maya and the Robot is a great example of Black girls in STEM that I wish I would have had growing up.

Maya and the Robot starts with bang as Maya's robot creates a huge and devastating mess in the school cafeteria. Assuming that readers have no idea what's going on, Maya takes them through the series of events that led up to this opening event. What is so amazing about this novel is that it tackles a number of different things like school age friendships, bullying, grief, insecurity/confidence, etc. It does so in a way that's accessible and appropriate for the target audience. Maya goes through some serious changes and learns how to find her voice after finding herself in a new classroom without her best friends. During this time, she acquires Ralph (the robot) from Mr. Mac whose son used to own and work on Ralph. Maya puts her science and technology skills to the test in order to get him working again. It's interesting that through this robot, Maya learns so much about herself and those around her. What's so great is that all the adults in Maya's life are extremely supportive of her goals in relationship to Ralph even the adults that Maya thinks don't notice or care about her. She has so much determination and passion and it was so great to see her make so many great strides to becoming a great scientist and a great friend.

The writing of this is extremely accessible and easy to follow. Even the more science based aspects of the books especially those related to Ralph were easy to understand. One criticism that I do have of this book is that it reads young. While it is labeled as a middle grade novel, Maya's voice feels a tad bit on the younger side. Fifth grade is considered to be in the realm of middle grade; however, I don't see a lot of older middle grade readers picking this one up. Nevertheless, it is great representation of Black girls who love STEM. Although Maya does have issue with other students at school, I feel as though most of this book is focused on her success and love for science. It was fast paced and I really loved seeing everything come together in the end. Definitely give this one a try.
Profile Image for Darla.
3,359 reviews529 followers
June 24, 2021
Where can I get my own Ralph? I loved the inside look at Maya's research and applications of the scientific method to get him up and running. The neighborhood that Maya lived in was also a wonderful addition to the narrative. There are some tissue-worthy moments as well as some high-five opportunities. Includes some friendship do's and don'ts as well as a classroom teacher who does not seem to be a good match at first. No teacher is the perfect fit for every child, but that does not mean there are not many opportunities to learn and grow in the classroom.

Thank you to Kokila and Edelweiss+ for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Cynthia.
73 reviews31 followers
July 21, 2021
I wish there were more books like this when I was a young reader! Maya is a shy, science-loving Black girl growing up in a working class Chicago neighborhood. When she discovers Ralph, a friendly homemade robot, she’s feeling lonely after being assigned to a different fifth-grade classroom from her two best friends. Ralph ultimately helps her learn more not just about science and technology, but also the power of friendship and the importance of believing in herself. This is a great book for elementary or middle school-age kids, especially if they’re interested in STEM. Thanks to Eve Ewing’s team for the advanced readers copy.
2 reviews
July 24, 2021
This middle-grades novel is so good! It's super engaging, has a great message, relatable characters, and would do well as a mentor text for lots of different skills and strategies. I am excited to use it as a read-aloud this year!
Profile Image for Natalie.
2,801 reviews136 followers
December 31, 2022
Maya is having a difficult year. First she's separated from her best friends, Jada and MJ, and then she ends up in the mean teacher's class. The one thing she's looking forward to is the science fair. She's been waiting for her chance to enter when she got to 5th grade.

While Maya is helping her friend, Mr. Mack, clean out the cupboard in his store she comes across something amazing, a real robot! Ralph was made by Mr. Mack's son, Christopher, a genius who went to Harvard. He hasn't been used for awhile, but Mr. Mack gives him to Maya.

Maya isn't sure how to get Ralph working until she visits the library with her aunt. In a presentation about batteries Maya figures out what she needs! Luckily the presenter at the library has an extra for her to take.

When Ralph comes to life Maya's whole world changes. Now she has a friend! Ralph helps with chores, helps Mr. Mack translate, goes shopping with her mom, and comforts Maya when she needs it.

Unfortunately things don't go well at the science fair, what could be wrong with Ralph?!

What I liked about this book:

*Maya was shy and it was very realistic. I also liked how the author showed the other perspective - sometimes people that are shy may come off as unfriendly when they aren't trying to be. Maya learns that in the end. I like that students who are shy can relate to Maya and in a safe way learn about how they may appear to others. As someone who was pretty shy growing up, I really appreciated that.

*As an aunt who loves being with her niece and nephews, I liked how it showed her aunt as part of her life. :)

*I liked Maya's community and how it showed the diversity. The book talked about how Mr. Mack wished he could communicate better with all his neighbors that spoke so many languages. I think a lot of people feel that way. It would be wonderful to speak lots of languages.

*So much of school revolves around friends and which classes you're in. It can make a big difference in a young life when they are separated from their friends. I think Ewing showed this well and I think it's a feeling a lot of young readers will understand.

*Maya's parents are divorced but she has a good relationship with both of them. I thought it was pretty realistic.

*Maya's family doesn't have a lot of money but it's something that is inferred, not a major part of the story. I liked that the author showed a realistic family situation where there is still stability and joy, even without a lot of money. Sometimes I feel like books either focus on extreme poverty or extreme wealth without a lot in between.

While there is a lot to like in this book, I still gave it three stars because it was all very surface level. There was SO much going on that we never really got deep with any one thing. I know that is more similar to how real life is - so many things happening at once - but I don't think it works as well in a book.

In the end when the author threw in the all I could think was "are you kidding me?!?" That was just a step too far for me in this type of book. I love the idea of sharing a book about girls in STEM but that addition made it inaccessible for a lot of young readers I know. On the other hand, it will probably help other readers be seen because, sadly, it's a facet of their lives. I can appreciate the author trying to include so many different people. (She also includes a minor character with they/them pronouns.)

Even though Maya is in fifth grade and some of the themes were meant for older readers, the book read more like a third grade level book. There's nothing wrong with that, just something to note.

Overall, this is a book I would keep in a classroom library, and recommend to readers, but it's not one I would use for a read aloud or a book group because of some the things I mentioned.

Profile Image for Marie.
85 reviews1 follower
May 19, 2022
My favorite thing about this book is the representation and diversity like a Black girl in STEM and a non-binary character. I didn't expect to cry a little either tbh but it was def worth it 😊
Profile Image for Maeve.
2,066 reviews20 followers
December 4, 2021
Maya is looking forward to the start of school...but is disappointed when she realizes her two best friends are in a different class. The first few months of school are challenging because Maya feels isolated and alone. But that changes when her local store owner gifts her an unfinished robot. Maya gets the robot (named Ralph) running and it brings together her family, her community, and her classmates.

A fun early chapter book with a focus on STEM, friendship, school relationships, and building strong communities.
Profile Image for vanessa.
981 reviews150 followers
July 21, 2022
I really enjoyed the cast of characters in this neighborhood and would love to read more books like it! There are still issues and people dealing with struggles, but they are all so connected and friendly and just neighborly. Maya is a great heroine with worries kids her age would relate to (feeling lonely, wondering if you are good enough). Some of the plot decisions towards the end were maybe a bit on the nose for me, but overall I valued my time with this story.
Profile Image for Shark.
62 reviews
January 29, 2022
"Five and a half stars. The themes were robots, science, and school. Maya was a girl who likes Legos. In Mr. Mac's store she finds a robot. She brings it to school. Its name is Ralph. It went haywire because Zoe Winters had messed with it, and it was flinging food because someone named Marcus was saying, 'Food fight, food fight!' Since it had gone haywire, when he was saying that, you would usually have to say his name (Ralph) and then he would say a command, but he went haywire since that Marcus guy was saying that. It was interesting. I found it so exciting that I read ten chapters at night and in the morning seven chapters, and I finished it on the date 1-29-22. I would recommend it to everyone, especially kids who like robots."
--first grader
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jill.
172 reviews9 followers
March 8, 2023
Family read aloud. Sweet story about hard changes, friendship, being yourself, and the coolness of science. I love how this book introduced my country living kids to urban life. The characters were so sweet that I wished i could live in their neighborhood and shop at Mr. Mac’s store. Wonderful vocabulary words.
Profile Image for Mary.
1,592 reviews
August 10, 2021
What a great book! It was well-written, funny, and heart-warming. It dealt with a few different subjects but didn't feel bogged down by them. Those subjects include science, friends, school, and gun violence. I really hope we get to see more of Maya, her friends, and Ralph!
Profile Image for Magaly C..
268 reviews1 follower
August 27, 2021
Maya lives in the city with her mom and baby brother, Amir, and her 5th-grade year is starting off very poorly. First, she has a difficult (somewhat boring) teacher. Next, she learns that her two best friends will not be in her class. Thirdly, she has to deal with Zoe who is unkind to her. So she has to try to make friends while also adjusting to a less friendly instructor (who calls her Patricia, even though everyone knows she goes by Maya!). However, 5th grade also means the school science fair. Maya loves science, technology, engineering, and math and she is doubly excited when she finds Ralph in the back of Mr. Mac's store.

This is a lovely, heartbreaking, and hopeful story about Maya dealing with loneliness, her community, and the evolution of friendships. Written from Maya's POV, we learn about her community as she does: in ways that transcend her typical interactions, but also through the lens of the adults around her. Maya begins to gain confidence in herself while also learning to find her voice and speaking up for herself. Eve Ewing touches on grief, loss, bullying, jealousy, and loneliness in a way that is relatable to middle-grade readers and will pull on the heartstrings of any adult tempered with humor and hopeful resilience of different characters.
E-ARC provided by NetGalley.
Profile Image for Gabrielle Prendergast.
Author 19 books444 followers
September 10, 2022
Like most books about robots, I wish this had been more about the robot and less about Maya. A book with a robot protagonist is more my jam.
Profile Image for Emily.
403 reviews25 followers
February 6, 2023
4.5. I loved reading this book! I can definitely see myself rereading it, and that’s not something I say often!! Firstly, the pacing was great as something was always happening to propel the plot or the characters forward, which meant I was super engaged from the get-go.

Maya was a fantastic MC. I loved her nerdiness around science, and her drive and curiosity to learn more. I myself learnt some sciency facts from her, and really enjoyed her accessible explanations. The feelings that she experienced with being separated from her friends at school were so honest and took me right back to when I was going through a similar time. Maya also had so much joy and playfulness which was so lovely to see as the reader! The story is mostly focussed on Maya’s character development, specifically in relation to her gaining confidence in herself as a scientist, but also in learning the nuances of friendship. I thought both aspects were really well done.

Ralph was also a fab character. He was adorable and I was giggling out loud when he was trying to cheer Maya up.

There were three others themes that, while not focal points of the story, were important nonetheless and executed brilliantly. These were bullying, grief, and community. The story explores the impact of bullying and social isolation, and even why someone might become a bully (though of course it doesn’t excuse the act of bullying itself). The book also shows what grief can look and feel like. In particular, I loved how it showed the validity of the grief of children. Finally, and one of my favourite parts of the book as a whole, was the depiction of community. At home, Maya is surrounded by people who love and support and KNOW her and one another. It was just so heartwarming to see.

The plot did feel a little directionless at times which is why I docked half a star, but obviously it wasn’t that much of a biggie!
Profile Image for Barbara.
13.1k reviews271 followers
September 25, 2021
This middle grade novel addresses a gap in children's literature by featuring a Black girl with a keen interest in science. Fifth-grader Maya Robinson decides that this is going to be a long, hard school year once she learns that her best friends Jada and MJ are in a different class than she is. Instead of having Ms. Montgomery, a former scientist, as her teacher, she is placed in the class of Ms. Rodriguez, who is known for her strictness and no-play attitude. Without the support of her friends, Maya feels confused and tentative, and she doesn't even correct her teacher when she calls her by her first name and not the middle name by which she goes. Even though she wants friends, Maya doesn't know how to reach out to others or to make herself available. But when she is cleaning out a storage area Mr. Mac, who owns a convenience store, she finds a robot named Ralph. Using Mr. Mac's son Christopher's notes and scientific thinking, she gets Ralph up and operating. She programs Ralph to help her family with chores, and he also eases her loneliness. Mr. Mac is thoroughly delighted with Ralph, but Maya senses sadness whenever he speaks of his son. Eventually, she learns about his tragic story. The story is suffused with heart and humor as well as a reminder that friends and our community will help us get through even the most challenging of times. This book also reminds readers to beware of assumptions about others since they are most likely incorrect and that emotions such as loneliness and sadness are perfectly normal. The fictional Maya's future seems bright, and I hope that Eve L. Ewing will return to this character to pave the way for all those living, breathing real-life Mayas out there.
Profile Image for Kenya Starflight.
1,193 reviews12 followers
December 16, 2022
What a cute book! I picked it up expecting a silly sci-fi romp with a girl and her robot friend -- and I'll be honest, I picked it up because it had a robot on the cover and in the title -- but instead got a sweet book about friendship, science, and kindness. And bonus points for encouraging kids to get into STEM, and showing diversity among the science fields.

Maya feels alone in fifth grade -- not only is her new teacher strict, but her best friends are in a different class! But when she discovers Ralph, a robot, hiding in a closet, she realizes she has a ready-made friend! But Ralph has a secret history of his own... and even a robot can cause his share of trouble...

Any kid who's felt like they've had a falling-out with friends, or who's felt lost and out of place in a new class, school, or situation, will relate to Maya and her struggles. This book isn't just her adventures with a robot companion, but her quest to gain confidence and make friends. And along the way she learns that science can be used to help others, and that sometimes friends remain friendly even if you've grown apart or developed different interests.

The writing in this book is good, if a little slow-paced at times -- it takes until halfway through the book for the titular robot to even come into play. And And the illustrations are a nice addition.

"Maya and the Robot" is a sweet read, one that plenty of kids will relate to. And it's nice to see a book featuring a girl and/or POC being interested in science and engineering.
January 23, 2023
“Our feelings,” Maya’s mom responds to her after Maya expresses how she wishes she could control her feelings, “are part of what makes us human, but they also make being human so very complicated. And sometimes our feelings disagree with each other!”
I loved this book because it explores how difficult change can be for all of us, particularly kids. And the importance of having friends and being open to making new ones. In a world that is content with the idea of “no new friends,” and shunning people for being… different, Maya and the Robot is a reminder that having a village and being a part of a community can be encouraging. And for those who struggle to communicate their needs, and throw tantrums because of their inability to articulate, having a person put a hand on your shoulder and tell you “it’s gonna be ok,” can be comforting. It also shows us that learning how to be human doesn’t end when you become an “adult.” it’s a journey, not so much a destination. And as adults, if we let our youngins guide us sometimes, there’s a whole internal world needing exploration and care. Kids are our future and our present.
90% of my days are spent around 11-14-year olds. It’s silly to think I don’t have to explore their worlds of music, shows/movies, and literature. I want to connect to my students in a meaningful way, and as a reading teacher I want to enlighten my kids to the joys of reading. And the joys of reading a book with racialized folks like them, who change their hairstyles every time you see them! That’s representation.
If you’re around young people like me, or still embrace your youth, also like me, read Maya and the Robot and other YA books! Younger you will be grateful that you did
Profile Image for Hannah.
141 reviews
November 3, 2022
Maya and the Robot is a solid younger middle-grade story, though it's not always very realistic. Maya's struggles to make friends were very relatable, but her solution to those issues was a little unbelievable. I mean, honestly, how many ten-year-olds just happen to find a fully programmed robot in a corner store's storage closet, then convince a museum employee to give them a very expensive battery so they can make it work?

That said, there were a lot of good parts. The characters were relatable, and the writing was quite good. It's great that we finally have a Black girl who likes science as a middle-grade protagonist. We need to get more girls interested in STEM, and books like this will really help, as well as show girls who are already interested in science that they're not alone. It's definitely a fun, funny read, but suited better to emerging chapter-book readers than middle school kids.

This book will fill the need for STEM fiction perfectly, and it's a good, relatable friendship story. I would recommend it for elementary school libraries, but not above that. Sadly, the writing isn't mature enough for the middle school crowd. Maya and the Robot is a solid book that will have a fairly large audience, even though the plot isn't very true to life.
Profile Image for Julie Overpeck.
117 reviews4 followers
July 13, 2021
Friendship, jealousy, loneliness, grief, finding your voice, resilience, and pursuing your interests are all themes tucked neatly into this story about a girl and her new mechanical companion. Maya’s best friends are in a different class this year, and for the first time, Maya is not looking forward to school. On top of that, Zoe is mean to her, and her teacher calls her by her first name instead of by Maya. But then, Maya finds a robot in the stock room while working at the store for Mr. MacMillan. She loves science and engineering, and this is exciting! She finds out that Mr. Mac’s son Christopher built the robot years ago, but Christopher is gone now, and Maya is not sure where he is. Maya gets the robot to work and all is well until sabotage at the science fair!

This is a good story with heavy moments tempered with humor and fun. Maya learns that there is more to people than she can see on the outside, that Christopher was shot and killed 10 years ago and Mr. Mac is still really sad, that Zoe is mean because she’s jealous and thinks Maya’s life is perfect, that her teacher calls her the wrong name because she doesn’t know any different and Maya never spoke up to correct her.

Highly recommended!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
820 reviews
April 4, 2022
Maya is devastated when 5th grade starts and she gets Ms Rodriguez, the strict, boring teacher and her two besties, MJ and Jada, are in the fun teacher's class together. Her teacher calls her "Patricia" instead of her preferred middle name, Maya, and she's too shy to correct her. Then she becomes shy about her friends having new jokes, stories and friends, and begins to feel more and more isolated. So when her local shop owner finds his son Christopher's partially completed robot in the storage closet, Maya jumps at the chance to get it working--could "Ralph" be her friend?
The robotic aspects are interesting if not seriously precise/accurate: A lucky meeting at the local science museum (with a non-binary docent) gets her the exact battery she needs, and the robot has lots of coding already installed. The things Maya has it do and the way it responds are fun and funny.
Slight mystery about Christopher and what happened to him. Divorced parents working together.
The book starts out with a disaster, and there's some suspense about how that happens, with more about being brave and not assuming you know someone else's feelings.
Great STEM enthusiasm, especially from Maya herself, and nice neighborhood characters and support.
Profile Image for Devin Redmond.
827 reviews
September 8, 2021
“Community” is the word of the month at our school for September. I wish I would have read Maya and the Robot beforehand because it would have made a great schoolwide read-aloud. ⁣

The book is written by Eve Ewing. From her bio, “Dr. Eve Louise Ewing is a sociologist of education whose research is focused on racism, social inequality, and urban policy, and the impact of these forces on American public schools and the lives of young people.” She is also a poet and visual artist. I truly love her work. Oh! And she won the 2020 Paul Engle Prize here in Iowa City. Ok, fine: one last thing, her dog’s name is Charlie Brown Christmas!⁣

𝘔𝘢𝘺𝘢 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘙𝘰𝘣𝘰𝘵 is set in Chicago and tells the story of a young girl who enjoys everything science. When helping at her neighborhood corner store, Maya discovers and is gifted a robot who was created by the store owner’s son. While learning about the robot and working on her science fair project AND trying to deal with her best friends not being in her class, Maya learns what it means to be a part of a helpful and caring community. 2nd grade +⁣
Profile Image for Brooke - TheBrookeList.
767 reviews7 followers
October 28, 2021
Maya and the Robot is a beautifully inclusive look at friendship and being oneself. “Being yourself is a gift to those around you.”

Eve L. Ewing brings a positive STEM focus to a bright black girl, growing up in average city circumstances, outside a nuclear family. But she has two loving and devoted parents, she has friends, but still struggles with loneliness and making new friends. She’s a smart and a capable scientist, but struggles to stand up for herself. She feels balanced, genuine, and relatable. Her amazing robot, Ralph, adds some fun and interest to the story (who doesn’t wish they had a helpful robot pal?). The story is well-written and addresses community issues with grace and care (such as an intercity shooting of a black man).

Maya works through social awkwardness, helps others, and grows through this lovely book. Feels maybe more middle grade fiction to me?

Listened to the audiobook version, which has a spectacular narrator (sounds like the same as the reader of Fighting Words?).

Checked out at the library in consideration for the 2021 Cybils awards.
Profile Image for Wina.
737 reviews
February 8, 2022
Contemporary fiction for ages 8-11, this book was about loneliness and struggling to make new friends, with a sweet ending. I really appreciated the parts about how a very smart person can struggle with social situations. Parts of the book reminded me of my son. I was a bit disappointed in parts of the book, hence only 3 stars. The first chapter was too ridiculous, going to far for reality and was more like a chapter from Captain Underpants--it didn't fit with a book that was realistic the rest of the time. There were some other points that bothered me, such as everyone so amazed at what Maya had done to get the robot working--but all she did was put in the special battery. I expected a lot because of accolades the book received. What I liked a lot were Maya's family, friends, and neighborhood. Those parts were really great. I especially liked the memorial service held in the neighborhood, and got choked up. There is a lot to like in the book, for sure. Three stars means I liked it, you know!
Profile Image for LaVonne Hanlon.
141 reviews7 followers
February 21, 2022
Gr. 3-6. Science-loving Maya Robinson fears the worst about the new school year when she learns she’s been separated from her best friends. But the fifth grader dreams of building a new buddy when the local convenience store owner gives her his son’s unfinished robot – until her completed creation turns the school science fair upside down. Middle schoolers can enjoy a read-aloud from the book at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/bo... or find samples of the text and their next favorite reads at https://storage.googleapis.com/classr... Author Eve L. Ewing, a comic book writer and University of Chicago professor, answers questions about “How to Build a Robot” at https://crownschool.uchicago.edu/how-... while Common Sense Media offers more books about math and science at https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book...
Profile Image for Demetrius  Frazier.
22 reviews6 followers
August 27, 2021
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and think this would be an excellent read for a Young Reader. The book handled important but sometimes sensitive topics like youth friendship, feelings of inadequacy, fitting in and violence appropriate to the level of the intended reader. The story line moved well and didn't linger on unnecessary tangents.

The author weaved in some historical figures and science facts to potentially spark interest to other topics as well as solved conflicts between characters without villainizing either which I found refreshing.

One note about the book is on some outlets the book is listed as a Young Readers (which I characterized as such in this review) book which over generalizes the reading level appropriate to the book. I believe the book is advanced elementary but can be used for middle grade readers that are not reading at level. The book's content is fun and light and might spark an uninterested middle grade reader to read more.
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