Five kids walk from their idyllic suburban community into the rough city, where they’ve never been, to save the life of one.
Mori and her friends know that Old Harmonie, their Utopian community run by KritaCorp, isn’t entirely Utopian (The Firefly Code, 2016). Their new friend Ilana, a kid like them, is a form of artificial intelligence—and Krita plans to disassemble her. If the kids can find an old MIT scientist who was involved in Ilana’s creation, would she save Ilana’s life? They escape to walk 24 miles along disused train tracks into Cambridge, hitting electric fences, angry dogs, and a town Krita flooded to create Old Harmonie’s reservoir. Awkwardly, hostilely, they bond with outsider kids. Mori’s sheltered perspective misses things that readers will understand: moving blankets on the ground probably conceal a homeless person; red dots on an outsider kid’s face are acne, not illness. Despite disturbing dystopic details and sophisticated concepts such as the uncanny valley, Mori’s earnestness and hard-won bravery give the story a gentle soul. A few holes remain at the end because the perspective is Mori’s and adults refuse—believably, frustratingly—to answer her questions. Mori’s heritage is Japanese and Scottish; other characters are brown-skinned and white-skinned. Massachusetts readers will thrill to local details.
Cold questions about technology and ethics wrapped in a warm story. (Science fiction. 9-12)