Reviewed in the United States on October 5, 2019
is a charming, funny, smart middle grade sci fi story with tons of appeal for both kids and grown-ups!
Cog looks like an average 12-year-old boy. He reminds me of one of my own boys at that age--driven to accumulate information and eager to share tidbits of learning to others, without stopping to gauge the recipient's interest in facts about the platypus, for instance (who I am I kidding--it's reminding me of me). Still with a lot of practical life-lessons to learn, and with a loving adult on hand to help steer him toward independent thinking. Cog, however, isn't an ordinary boy. He is a robot, and the loving adult is Gina, his programmer. She works for uniMIND, a big corporation of robot designers, but she's gone slightly rogue, and added programing to Cog that gives him control over his own choices (and more, but that's a spoiler). She and Cog live alone, and the corporation doesn't know what she's up to.
But when Cog takes to heart Gina's lesson that making mistakes can lead to learning, and leaves home one morning on his own to learn in this way, his choice to save a dog from being runover lands him in the uniMIND labs, in the hands a roboticist who believes devoutly that robots are tools, and the financial bottom line is what's important. And when Cog realizes, through observation and experience, the danger he's in, he knows he must escape and find Gina again.
So he does, with a trashbot, a robot dog, a robotic car, and ADA, Gina's previous robot child, designed to be tool for war. A desperate, often funny, often terribly tense road trip ensues, with uniMIND and the police on the hunt for the fugitives. (Car is my favorite fictional car ever, btw, though it's possible the first sentient fictional car I've ever actually felt fond of). Happily, it ends well (though around page 120 I cracked and had to read the end to make sure).
This is more than just boy/robot adventure/coming of age/found family story with lots of danger and humor, though. It has a thought-provoking punch about the choices we make, and the dangers we face if we loose our freedom to think for ourselves. "I may be a weapon," [ADA] says, "but I will decide for myself how I'm used."
short answer: I loved it. It made me grin a lot, and even chuckle out loud, I was riveted (except for having to put it down a couple of times when things got too tense),and I appreciated that it was a relatively short, compact package of goodness, making it one to recommend to younger mg readers.
If you have a super curious, quirky kid of 9 or so who needs a book to read, offer this one. Then, if you are a smart, quirky grown-up, read it yourself.