Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Speak For Me

Alexander, K.R. Speak for Me
October 4th 2022 by Scholastic Inc.
Library copy

Nomi has an understandable, healthy fear of dolls, and her friends all know this. Jenna, however, is obsessed with the new "smart" doll, Emmy, which can sync with other dolls and can be controlled and programmed through a phone app. Nomi does NOT want one of these dolls, but Jenna does. Jenna doesn't have enough money for one, so makes a plan to steal one by distracting the clerk. Her plan works, and she steals an extra one for Nomi, which she names Alice. This isn't the best start, and Nomi's parents ask all of the appropriate questions, but seem satisfied with Nomi's answers. Jenna is thrilled, and uses the doll to send messages. The creep factor of the dolls is high-- they can project things from their eyes, spy on their surroundings, and learn their owners voices so they can speak as them! They get even creepier when it seems like Clarita, who was supposed to be in a talent show group with Nomi and Jenna, is apparently injured by her own doll after Nomi tells Alice that she wishes Clarita were out of the way. The talent show is a big deal, and Jenna's talent for bossing Nomi around is own display as she picks out a song that isn't suited to Nomi, and keeps calling the shots. Nomi gets a cold and loses her voice, and starts bringing Alice to school so she can have the doll speak for her. Is this a good idea? Of course not! Before long, anyone who crosses Nomi comes to grief, and Alice gains more and more power. Will Nomi be able to find a way to neutralize the doll before it neutralizes her?
Strengths: The fact that Nomi doesn't like dolls but agrees to work with one to appease her overbearing best friend somehow makes this work perfectly. There is a great mix of girl drama and evil dolls that is just perfect. Is it also a little cheesy? Yes, in the same way that 1970s horror movies are cheesy. The use of technology is great, and the fact that the doll can interact with internet connected appliances was terrifying. How do we know that Alice isn't going to decide to blow up the microwave? This was fast paced, had a veneer of "Am I hallucinating" when it came to Nomi's interactions with her increasingly evil doll, and also had some good violence to dolls. I'm not usually a fan of violence, but tearing Alice's arm off... yeah, I'm okay with that. The parents appear just enough to give us the feeling that Nomi is definitely doing something that isn't quite right. The cover is great, and this book will be another hit in my library. I can think of a dozen students to hand it to tomorrow. 
Weaknesses: It bothered me a little that there were no consequences for Jenna for stealing the dolls, and Jenna's problematic behavior also isn't addressed as much as it could be, mainly because everyone is being terrorized by dolls. Also, why did Alice turn so evil?
What I really think: Alexander's titles are so popular in my library that I've taken to ordering three of everything he writes. At the end of the year, this is going to be a problem, because there won't be room on the shelf to store them over the summer. They are always checked out. Before Alexander's work, creepy doll books weren't a big draw (except for Bell's 2016 Frozen Charlotte and Alender's 2009 Bad Girls Don't Die), but Alexander's books fly off the shelves! This also had a nice message about speaking up for oneself that teachers and other adults will love. Purchased two copies without first having read this and don't regret it at all. 

Ms. Yingling

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