Set in a futuristic Uganda, Kisakye’s (Tech Explorers League: Hacked!, 2017, etc.) middle-grade novel follows four 10-year-old friends as they attempt to win a science fair trophy.
Dembe can’t wait for summer break to begin. He’s half asleep in class when the headmistress announces that this break will be longer than usual, so that students can work on a project for the school’s inaugural science fair. Dembe teams up with his friends Jingo, Erisa, and Talemwa, and together, they decide to build a robot. It can’t be just any “bot,” though—their world is already full of “bots to drive trucks,” prepare food, and do chores—so if they want to win, their creation must be extraordinary. They need someone to teach them how to build robots. Also, where will they get the expensive parts they need? And will they finish in time? With the help of professor Fundi, “the brains behind most of the robots made in Uganda,” and the inspiration of Abram, Fundi’s “AssistBot,” who has the “closest thing to the human brain ever created,” the friends set to work. But when they encounter a problem, Dembe makes a decision that could hurt the whole team. This book’s plot is rote—children take on a challenge, a generous adult helps, an issue arises, and “at the end, they will have learnt a lesson.” However, it’s refreshing to read a story peopled by black characters in an African country in which the focus isn’t on African culture, hardship, or fable. At times, though, the contrast between the technical language—“exposed metal pathways were integrated into the brace”—and the simplistic kid’s-book text is distracting.
A sci-fi story with an intriguing setting but an unsurprising narrative structure.