A young, smug scientist gets more than he bargained for in this middle-grade story.
Isaac Farmer is sure that he’ll win the school science fair. His “PTB Energy House” is mostly lifted from things he found on the internet, but he’s still able to charm the judges into thinking the project is a genuine example of a new alternative energy source. But when he includes a secret insult to alternative-energy technology in the project’s title, things go south. His science teacher arranges a meeting with his parents and the principal. If Isaac wants to attend the state science fair, the principal says, he’ll have to change his project, and to make that happen, he’s calling in help. Professor “Bowtie” Murphy agrees to mentor the boy while he builds real technology for the fair with the help of a former student who owns a solar-tech company. Soon, Isaac takes a shine to the project. When Isaac’s friend Jimi accidentally adds a gross ingredient to his solar panel, the result is electric—and the grown-ups are keen to figure out its secret. After further experiments and encounters with lawyers, there’s a public unveiling of the solar panel that’s also a test of Isaac’s social skills. Rink (Jimi & Isaac 3a: The Mars Mission, 2010, etc.) makes sure that there’s no shortage of tangible scientific information in this story, from an explanation of a matrix that Isaac creates to a discussion of photoelectric chemicals. The amount of technical jargon, though, may deter readers who aren’t already devoted to science. It’s also a little hard to believe that a key element of the story is Isaac’s smart-aleck behavior, as the most egregious act that he engages in is using the word “duh” as a constant retort. In addition, the chapters in which grown-ups do most of the talking tend to drag. However, those that feature Isaac and Jimi being giggling middle schoolers feel authentic.
A tale that’s part high jinks, part detailed science lesson, which will appeal to a specific niche of young readers.