Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Molly and the Machine

Slangerup, Erik Jon. Molly and the Machine
June 7th 2022 by Aladdin/Simon and Schuster
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Molly lives with her younger brother Wally and father in Hocking Hills, Ohio in the 1980s. Her father has been depressed ever since her mother left them for another man, and while he barely manages to keep a job, he doesn't pay much attention to what Molly does with her time. In true 1980s fashion, he encourages her to find her own fun and not bother him while he watches television, and she is often put in charge of Wally. She does have Darryl, her dog, Crank the cat, Don Carlos the chameleon, and her great uncle Clovis' armadillo Mondo to keep her company, as well as schoolmate Arvin. Clovis has recently given her a new bike, which she has named Pink Lightning, which allows her to travel around her community. Just as she is getting herself organized for the summer, things take anunexpected turn. While she is reluctantly watching Wally, he is spirited away by a giantic robot! Convinced that the Soviets have abducted him (after all, President Reagan thinks they are a menace), Molly sets out to get him back. She eventually runs into Arvin, who was also taken by the robot, but has managed to escape. This takes them on a wild adventure through the nearby woods that involves surprising twists that involve ice cream sundaes, lots of mud, Uncle Clovis' inventions, and an "incredible journey" inside of a massive robot. Are the Soviets really snatching American children? Are armadillos useful in battling giant robots? And what role does the company whose name is on a discarded bolt, Vandervorkel Robotics, play in all of this?
Strengths: Molly's story had a lot of twists and turns that I didn't see coming and don't want to ruin. The robot's creator is rather inspired, and the reasons that it is gobbling up children (and providing them with junk food and decade appropriate games!) is one that will resonate with young readers. It's hard to write good chase scenes, and Slangerup does an excellent job at not only describing Hocking Hills, but using its features well in the romp across its landscape. There is some back story to drive character development, and I was glad to see that Molly's father eventually broke out of his depression to support his children. Since there was a lot of running about, I was glad that the cast of characters was smaller, and Arvin was a good foil for Molly. Wally wasn't as annoying as younger brothers can be. Either that, or Molly is a nicer sister than I was. I might have been invlined just to let the robot take my brother! This is a solid debut by a Columbus author. 
Weaknesses: I had trouble believing that Molly would have been able to bring all of the animals along on the adventure. A dog, sure, but it seemed unlikely that a cat, chameleon, and armadillo would have been able to keep up. Young readers will just be glad that animals are involved. (I am still a little traumatized, after nine years, by Apollo the poodle's adventures in Spradlin's Menace from the Deep. Kids, leave your pets at home!)
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who want quirky, humorous adventure like Vlock's Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect,  Venditti and Higgins' Attack of the Alien Hordes, Bart King's The Drake Equation, and maybe even Condie's The Darkdeep, which shares a similar rural, wooded setting. 

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