Tuesday, November 07, 2017


34079577McIntosh, Will. Watchdog.
October 10th 2017 by Delacorte Press
E Copy provided by the author

In a vaguely dystopian future, Vick and Tara are just some of the abandoned children who scrape out an existence scavenging in a garbage dump and living on the roof of an abandoned apartment building. Tara is on the autism spectrum, so doesn't take the disruption to her life very well, but she is also very talented at fixing technology, and after finding a special computer chip in the dump, constructs a very intelligent robot, Daisy. There are a lot of individuals, and some emerging companies, that are building very sophisticated and fierce watchdogs of various designs, and Tara and Vick manage to come across the radar of Ms. Alba, who is enslaving many of the homeless children so that they can work for her. While the two make some good connections, the way Ms. Alba treats Tara is completely unacceptable to Vick, and despite the fact that they both have trackers installed in their arms, the two escape. After a lot of fighting and hiding, they manage to reconnect with one of the other orphans and her friends. Together, they decide that Tara can use Daisy and her chip to build an army of watchdogs and try to defeat Ms. Alba so that the children caught in her trap can be released. Tara is very skilled, but the odds are stacked against the children. Can they work together and use technology to assure a slightly more comfortable future for themselves?
Strengths: This was a good length,  the story moved along quickly, and the cover is fantastic! I got the feeling that there was a very complete outline and that this was well-edited to remove extraneous explanation so that the story didn't bog down. The tech details were fun, and the idea of small concerns trying to capitalize on a need was interestingly done. There were just enough characters to be able to keep them all straight and have them be adequately developed. Vick's concern for his sister is very touching, and his ruthlessness at getting revenge on a robot who took his mother's job rang true. The happy ending would stand on its own, or pave the way for a sequel.
Weaknesses: The junkyard setting made me think of Farmer's The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, which I disliked intensely. Luckily, while the story included lots of scenes in the junkyard, it also got out into the city of Chicago, so that helped. Tara at one point says she is "severely autistic", but she seemed highly functioning to me. Her manifestations of this condition seemed a bit uneven, but then she is in a very unusual situation. I could have used a few more details about how Chicago had devolved into such chaos, and about Ms. Alba as well.
What I really think: While this might lack the minutiae of world building that older, hard core sci fi fans would like, this is a good, fast paced introduction to dystopian novels that will appeal to a slightly younger middle grade crowd. I will definitely purchase this for sensitive souls who think that they want to read The Hunger Games or Divergent but who aren't ready for the length or the dark tone of those books. I've also had a run on robot book requests lately, and this will be perfect.

Ms. Yingling

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