Monday, November 28, 2016

Fuzzy

Fuzzy is the latest offering  from Tom Angleberger (author of the Origami Yoda series) and was cowritten by Paul Dellinger. It is a humorous school story that is full of intrigue,  humor, and robots.

Fifty years in the future schools are controlled by a strict Federal School Board. The students take tests every week to prove that they are "upgrading" well enough. In one school Max (Maxine) is having a rough time. Her test scores are falling even though she studies hard and knows the answers. The computer vice-principal known as Barbara is also constantly giving her discipline tags. But Max has something to be excited about because her school is about to get the first robot to be integrated with humans. The handlers of "Fuzzy" choose Max as the robot's guide and soon the robot and the girl are connecting. When Fuzzy figures out that Barbara has developed a mind of her own and is changing students' test scores. Fuzzy, Max, and their other friends have to try to save their school and each other.

Max and Fuzzy are a great friendship team. This delves into the idea of AI and what happens when a computer can think for itself and make crucial decisions without human input. It is a concept that has been explored in science fiction for decades (several such books get a mention in here), but is definitely trending in both MG and YA more in the last couple of years. Fuzzy, being an Angleberger novel, takes a humorous look at this. Max is a smart girl, but she doesn't always want to perform inside the box created for her by the school system, testing, and the tyrannical AI Barbara. The kids desperately want to be kids but are constantly being told to get back in line and worry about their tests. Max tries her best but doesn't always succeed. Barbara sees her as a wild card and fixates on her for this reason. Max is full of curiosity about her world and just wants to know more. She does a great job with Fuzzy-anticipating his problems, leading him around, and helping him acclimate. In return Fuzzy learns from her how to think like a human. He begins to make his own decisions and color outside the lines himself. He even begins to have a spectacularly spot-on middle school attitude problem complete with snark. They are a brilliant team.

There is a lot about Fuzzy that is reminiscent of a Disney Channel movie. The adults are all a little over top and stereotypical. Their antics are a lot beyond the realm of the realistic, and of course, the kids are the ones to save the day in the end. They see things the grown ups do not. There are mustache twirling yet incompetent type villains in a van trying to get to Fuzzy. It's the sort of story kids eat up like candy. Added to this is a lot of humor and a fast-paced story full of action that will keep kids reading.

Underneath all of this, the authors have a commentary about the state of eduction and focus on testing going on that is fascinating. I don't think this is something just adults in education or concerned parents will get. The kids are going to fully get this to. I've had so many kids talk to me about how worn out they are on all the testing they do. I think they will appreciate this. They will like seeing that there is someone else out there who gets that. The fact that the villainous face of the testing system is Dolores Umbridge in AI form will make this even more entertaining for them.

This is a must have for kids who like humorous school stories.

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