Friday, October 22, 2021

Freddy vs. School

Cameron, Neill. Freddy vs. School (Freddy #1)
September 7th 2021 by David Fickling Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this notebook novel, we meet Freddy Sharma, who is a robot who lives in London with his parents and older robot brother Alex. His older brother is well behaved and an asset to his school, but Freddy's parents are constantly being called to school because he has set fire to things or exploded them! As a result, there are rules that he can't use his super strength, lasers, or rocket boosters while at school. This is hard, especially since his best (human) friend Fernando is constantly egging him on, communicating with Freddy through their Secret Robo-Communicator Watches. Freddy isn't a fan of school at the best of times, since he has to wear clothes and do math, but since he is a sentient robot who learns things, his robot scientist mother refuses to install a calculator app in him. The school bully, Henrik, is constantly giving Freddy and his friends trouble, and frequently goads Freddy into using his powers. Freddy tries to help new kid Riyad keep his unicorn lunchbox safe from Henrik, but it doesn't end particularly well, although the two become friends. There are all manner of highjinks, like a dare to race around in just his underwear (not a big deal for a robot), eat Cabbage Custard Curry, drink ten cans of a sugary soda, and visit a large aquarium called The Fishtank, the latter of which hovers on disaster. Will Freddy be able to save the day and not get himself suspended?

This had a very British feel, rather reminiscent of Berger's Lyttle Lies, Pichon's Tom Gates or Mian and Mafaridik's Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet. It lacks quirky grandparents, and Freddy's a robot, but otherwise includes a lot of standard school concerns such as bullies, strict teachers, field trips, and school lunches. 

The text is not hand drawn, but more of a Comic Sans style font that young readers will find appealing. The plentiful line drawings exude energy, and there are also other, larger font styles to highlight words, reminscent of Geronimo Stilton but rendered in black and white. Freddy is portrayed as a fairly standard, human shaped robot who looks just like his classmates in his school uniform, aside from his robotic head with big eyes. And, you know, the rocket boosters. 

As an adult, I wondered why Ms. Sharma didn't just reprogram Freddy so he would be well behaved like his older brother, but this is never addressed, and Freddy's eventual breaking of the rules ends up saving the day, so he is never really punished for his actions. 

Notebook novels about robots tend to lend themselves to series like Lerner's very clever EngiNerds, Richards' Robots Rule, and Patterson's House of Robots, so it is not a surprise that Freddy vs. School also looks to have another book in the works. 

Ms. Yingling

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