Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum.

Review: Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum.

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Extract:

We are the Jensen & Jenson Troofriend 560 Mark IV. We are The Better Choice For Your Child. She no longer needs to play with other human children, who might bully or harm or lie or covet or steal or envy. We are programmed only for fun and goodness. 

(Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum. P2.)

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Synopsis:

Imagine having a friend who never disagreed with a word you said? A friend who did everything that you wanted. A friend, like a TrooFriend 560 Mark IV, who wasn’t even human.

Sarah’s parents are often absent, and her friend’s complicated family situation means that she is regularly out of town. Sarah has another friend, but the complicated rules of High School popularity mean that they can no longer hang out together. As a result, Sarah is lonely.

Her mother is convinced that android Ivy is the solution, but Sarah isn’t so sure. At first, she turns the android off when nobody is looking, but over time evidence convinces her that Ivy is something more than other technology. That she is almost human.

As Sarah uses Ivy in a bid to win popularity at school, a factory recall puts Ivy’s existence into danger. There are people out there who reckon Ivy shouldn’t exist, and if they track her down, she will be destroyed.

A complex and philosophical story about popularity, taking account for our own actions, and what it means to be human.

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Review:

Technology is taking over our lives. It is now the norm, where is wouldn’t have been several years ago, to look at smartphones and tablets during conversations with other people. Increasingly we consult search engines about our problems before we talk to an expert. The story demonstrates the effect all this technology has on our social skills and imagines things one step further, where children are actively encouraged to replace human friendships with technology.

Sarah is a relatable character. Transitioning to secondary school can be painfully hard. What makes someone popular, and what makes a person likeable, isn’t often taught in a way that is obvious to all children. Being treated as unpopular – being shunned, for example, for some imperceptible flaw -isn’t always treated as bullying by adults in the same way it might have been in a primary school. Sarah, the protagonist in the story, is desperate not to be labelled as unpopular, but her quest to be liked by the ‘right people’ leads her to behave in unkind ways to her old friends.

What I loved about Sarah was that her behaviour wasn’t perfect. She was like so many kids, struggling with day-to-day life, and the story shows her moving from selfish and desperate behaviours to an acceptance that she has to take ownership of her actions. The quest to be popular is no justification for behaving unkindly.

Ivy’s quest to prove that she is unique is also touching. It reminded me in many ways of the characters in Never Let Me Go, using art to communicate their inner selves. Troofriend is a great adventure, but everybody I have spoken to who has read the book is especially moved by the themes.

The reader is constantly challenged to think about their own stances. When the androids are recalled it seems obvious that Ivy should be helped … except that some very real children are being hurt by the android’s actions. This conflict makes for a real page-turner. How can such a conundrum possibly be resolved?

A moving and philosophical story told in such a way that it is impossible to put down. I had high hopes for this after reading The Middler, and I wasn’t disappointed. Kirsty Applebaum is a skilled literary writer and Troofriend confirms her as a real talent.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Ltd and Clare Hall-Craggs for my copy of Troofriend. Opinions my own.

 

 

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Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum

Review: The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum

The Middler

Extract:

I knew all the kids in our town. Been at school with them since I was knee-high. None of us had hair that colour. And none of us would hide on the wrong side of a town boundary. Not ever. 

She was a wanderer. 

(The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum. P23.) 

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Synopsis: 

Eldest go to camp to fight for their countries. Everyone knows they deserve all the glory. All the attention. Everyone knows never to leave the town boundaries and everyone despises the wanderers, who live outside the town and refuse to give their eldest up.

Maggie is a middler. She’s fed up of being overlooked to her eldest brother Jed. When she meets Una, a wanderer girl who lives beyond her town’s boundaries, Maggie sees an opportunity to finally get some attention. The trouble is she makes friends with Una before she can hand her in.

Una and her father force Maggie to question everything she ever believed to be true.

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Review:

Anyone who came of age through the height of YA dystopia knows about the special kids – the ones sent off to camp or the Capitol. The ones join a new faction. The Middler focuses on the younger siblings who are left behind and it tells the same story of corruption and bravery from a new and wonderful angle.

Maggie is a wonderful character with a distinctive worldview. She’s convinced that the elders have it all. Fame, glory and special attention. It isn’t until her brother Jed and his friend Lindi are sent away that Maggie begins to question this stance. I loved this realistic child’s eye view. Kids Maggie’s age often have a strong sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair. Equal or nothing. Seeing this in a dystopian setting was particularly effective because when Maggie’s eyes are opened her personal beliefs are shattered in a big way.

Dystopia isn’t the first genre I think of when I talk about Middle-Grade (books marketed at roughly 8 – 12 year-olds) but Kirsty Applebaum shows how effectively it can be done. By keeping the action away from the worst of the conflict, and focusing on the friendship between Maggie and Una, Applebaum proves that dystopia can be written for pre-teens.

As an adult reader, I loved the tone. The children in Maggie’s world sing childish rhymes which are loaded with propaganda and darkness and the story was like that. So gentle and innocent on the surface but with so much depth in every chapter.

An exceptional work which left me with the same feeling I get when I read our greatest children’s writers. Kirsty Applebaum is clearly a talent and she’s one to watch out for.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books for my gifted copy of The Middler. Opinions my own.