An android built to take the place of a seventh grader winds up hijacking his life in this middle-grade SF novel.
Seventh grade at Borelon Middle School has been no fun at all for Chuck Bowinger, almost 13 years old. Last year, he was short and cute; this year, he’s gangly and pimpled. Classes are more challenging; he can’t talk to girls; and Bailey Higgins trips him in the hallways. Wouldn’t it be great, Chuck muses, if he “could just lie in bed all day and game”? When his best friends, engineers Rainie Warren and Maxwell Lee, ask him to join their science fair project, at first C-student Chuck is reluctant. But he has a brilliant idea and convinces his friends to build a robot version of himself, who’ll take his place at school and win first prize on SciDay. Rainie and Max solve the technical problems, and the result is C.H.U.C.K.: Computerized Human Under Control of Kid. After constructing a secret hideaway in the basement, Chuck sends C.H.U.C.K. to school, controlling him like an avatar in a video game. Suddenly, he’s doing great in school and gym class while impressing his crush, Samantha Benedeer. But before long, C.H.U.C.K. develops a mind of his own. He wants Chuck’s life for himself—and that’s only the beginning. It’s boy versus android, leading to a striking SciDay showdown. Harelik (Monster Boy, 2017) has an engaging premise, with great appeal for any reader who ever wanted to retreat from the difficult world of middle school while still making a good showing in public. Of course, it’s not exactly believable that two seventh graders could construct such a perfect simulacrum, but the author provides somewhat plausible explanations (“I’m lucky my father owns a small but successful robotics laboratory right here in Borelon,” comments Max). Comic as the book often is, there are some serious undercurrents here about facing up to problems and actually living your life, pimples and all. Chuck also discovers a new appreciation for the warmth and exchanges of family life; even Bailey comes in for reassessment.
An entertaining and thoughtful robot tale with a dramatic climax.