The Trouble with Robots

Being a part of the robotics team at Barton Junior High School has been the highlight of Evelyn Cole’s life so far. She has her sights set on competing at the World championships and earning scholarships so she can help her mothers support her through college. But when Evelyn’s best friend Naiely moves away, it becomes painfully clear just how much Naiely was the glue holding their robotics team together. All the unpleasant sides of Evelyn’s personality take center stage, which inevitably pushes her teammates far away from her and their shared goals. It is up to everyone to look inside themselves and make different choices in order to rebuild their team in time for the next big competition.

This story is written from the dual perspectives of Evelyn and Allie, a girl who has never been interested in robotics but finds herself unwillingly added to Evelyn’s team. As challenges arise that the girls must overcome, each of them is forced to face some of the less glamorous truths about their personalities and choose how to manage them. The entire book is written in the first person, shifting between Evelyn and Allie with each chapter, and this gives readers deep insight into the two girls’ feelings and desires without them having to share these sensations out loud. At its heart, this is a story about self discovery and redemption told through the lens of a middle school robotics class.

Readers will appreciate the wide range of diverse characters represented within this novel, from same-sex parents and relationships to differing physical and mental abilities including cerebral palsy and autism. While all of these elements are mentioned in the story, however, they are not a primary feature of the narrative. Instead, the plot is focused more on the shared connection the characters feel and how they face the universal human challenges of acceptance and camaraderie. Anyone who has ever had to work on a team will recognize the exaggerated personalities used in this novel, and young readers will especially appreciate being able to observe the consequences of behaving certain ways alongside positive modeling of how to live with greater empathy. This charming middle grade story is an excellent addition to STEM curricula for middle grade readers.

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