What if the robot apocalypse was beginning— subtly—in your own neighborhood?
Blue flashes and sinister clanking noises emanating from the junk abandoned near the otter habitat that Jim and his science-fair partner Rocky (short for Rochelle) plan to observe via remote camera turn out to be the remains of a defense research project. The fierce, Taser-armed, self-reprogramming dinobots don’t make more than a fleeting appearance until the penultimate, climactic chapter, but since Jim and his friends take up robot construction and programming when the ottercams are stolen, it becomes clear early on that their skills will be put to use in ways larger than a local robot-fighting competition. The burnt-out buildings of the research company highlight the North Minneapolis setting of an urban neighborhood struggling with contemporary economic hardship. Scaletta provides his seventh-grade protagonists with complex back stories and gives them a fair amount of freedom to roam, sophisticated understanding of the adult world and plenty of smarts for learning how to code instructions for semi-autonomous robots. These young teens’ own autonomy is a given—parents and adults close to them remain clueless. By the time Jim and his friends confront the robot menace with their own impressively armored fighting creation, they have mastered a fair amount of coding and hardware technology in robotics.
A deft mix of middle school drama and edgy techno thrills. (Science fiction. 11-14)