A masterpiece of middle grade fiction, this book has the perfect pairing – an impressive and totally unique voice coupled with an original and electrifying plot.
Sarah wants a dog. She’s, therefore, less than impressed when her mum buys her a robot instead. Every ‘Jenson & Jenson TrooFriend 560 Mark IV’ is unique. They are marketed as the better choice for children – unlike human playmates, a TrooFriend does not bully, harm or lie. They don’t covet, steal or lie. They are supposed to be the perfect friend. It takes Sarah a while but she finally decides there might be benefits to her new TrooFriend, whom she names Ivy (after the Roman numeral IV on her arm). But just as Sarah and Ivy start to become true friends, all TrooFriend 560 Mark IVs are recalled to the factory. There are rumours that some of the recent androids have started to develop human-like “feelings”.
I loved Kirsty Applebaum’s debut novel, The Middler, which is now one of my all-time favourite books. I was, therefore, very excited to read her second book and a little apprehensive in case it didn’t measure up. I needn’t have worried. Unbelievably, this is even better! Indeed, it’s one of those very rare books that requires a 6 or 7 (or 99) out of 5 star rating.
As with The Middler, this book has the perfect pairing – an impressive and totally unique voice coupled with an original and electrifying plot.
The story is told in first-person from the perspective of Ivy, a TrooFriend robot from Jenson & Jenson. Ivy’s voice gripped me from the opening lines: I sit cross-legged on the floor. My knees are not stiff. They bend just as easily as the knees on any real human child.
But this is only the start. I couldn’t help but marvel at the skill of the writing as Ivy’s voice grows and develops, slowly deviating from her programming by tiny increments. I also really enjoyed reading a robot’s take on the world, particularly the way Ivy describes the humans she meets in TrooFriend terms. (Sarah, for example, has eyes that are ‘Hazel 102’ and hair that is ‘Chestnut 29, in the Classic Collarbone Cut’). Most of all, however, I loved Ivy’s innocent confusion as she tries to make sense of human behaviour. Her observations on the etiquette of eating (particularly fish and chips) had me howling with laughter.
All the other characters are equally well realised, especially Sarah and her parents (Shirley-Mum and Rob-Dad). I was also intrigued by both the Jenson’s, particularly Ms Jenson Junior: as the plot develops, it’s hard to determine the reasons for Ivy’s obvious affection for her co-creator.
The plot is totally addictive making this book impossible to put down. (I started reading on the plane on the way to my holiday and all holiday activities had to go on hold until I’d reached the end!) The plot also raises interesting questions about both the nature of human friendship and the morals around sentient beings. I would imagine that teachers will find this an interesting text to share with their class. First, however, they will need to find a way to prise the book from their colleagues as this is most definitely one of those middle grade stories that will appeal to adults and children alike.
If you enjoyed this and haven’t already read it, I would urge you to read The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum. The outstanding voice in both Kirsty’s books also reminds me why I love Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce, so that might be another book that fans of TrooFriend would enjoy.
Publication date: April 2020
Publisher: Nosy Crow