Posted in Graphic Novels, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Pixels of You considers friendships between AI and human

Pixels of You, by Ananth Hirsh & Yuko Ota/Illustrated by J.R. Doyle, (Feb. 2022, Amulet Paperbacks), $16.99, ISBN: 9781419749575

Ages 14+

The team behind 2016’s graphic novel, Lucky Penny, are back with a story about AI, humans, and the relationship that forms between one pair. Indira is a human artist, a photographer, who’s been cybernetically augmented after a car accident took one of her eyes at the age of 10. Fawn is the first human-presenting AI, also a photographic artist, who interns at the same gallery as Indira. The gallery owner puts them together on a project after the two have a very public disagreement over their work, the gallery owner – their mentor – puts them to the ultimate test: work on a project together, or leave the gallery. Period. At first, the collaboration is forced, grudging, but slowly, as the two artists get to know one another, a friendship forms, allowing each to see the world through the other’s eyes. Largely illustrated in shades of rose and violet, black pages with white text that record key moments in AI/Human history capture the reader’s attention and act as chapter heads, giving readers an idea of what may lie ahead. The characters are hard to get to know in the first pass – the story is interesting, but hard to connect to at first; I felt like I “got” them better as I went on in the story. I re-read the book, and the knowledge I’d gained from the first pass definitely helped me feel more for the characters from the outset, so you may want to give a solid booktalk on what’s going on in human history – touch on the paranoia that exists between humans and AI, for starters – at the time the story is set, to give tweens and teens more context to build on. There’s a slow-burn sapphic romance subplot that’s so subtle, some readers may not pick up on it for a while, but it is a satisfying close. Fawn’s robot parents are a surprise hit in the story. Give this one a shot. Talk about perspective, and how photography factors into the story of “seeing” others. I think it’ll find a dedicated audience.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Scythedom faces big challenges in Thunderhead

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2), by Neal Shusterman, (Jan. 2018, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9781442472457

Recommended for readers 12+

Scythe was one of the best books I read last year, so I was waiting for Thunderhead like a kid for… well, Christmas. How could he top Scythe? Well… in tremendous fashion. When we last saw the characters from Scythe, Citra Terranova had become Scythe Anastasia, working with the well-established Scythe Curie. Rowan adopted the persona of Scythe Lucifer and has since set about cleaning up the Scythe community in his own way – which puts him on the entire Scythedom’s hit list. Scythe Anastasia challenges the “new order” scythes, who want to glean with no quotas and no strictures; this puts her in the crosshairs of those Scythes who would operate outside of the rules.

Meanwhile, the Thunderhead – the artificial intelligence that keeps society running as a virtual utopia – is watching society fall apart. Hampered by its own rules and inability to take direct action, it laments humanity and the paths we constantly find ourselves on.

Thunderhead takes everything readers loved about Scythe and adds more: more tension, more intrigue, more to ponder about ourselves as a society. Rowan and Citra are incredible characters, and I’m thrilled to get to know Scythe Curie better in this installment. There are some truly awful Scythes here, and you’ll curl your lip as you discover some of their gleaning preferences and tactics, to be sure. Neal Shusterman has the fantastic ability to make single character come to life.

Do NOT miss Thunderhead. I’ve already got one teen counting down days until it arrives at the library.

Scythe is the 2017 Printz Award winner. Neal Shusterman received the 2015 National Book Award and the 2016 Golden Kite Award for Fiction for Challenger Deep.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

The Scorpion Rules: War Becomes Personal

cover70208-mediumThe Scorpion Rules, by Erin Bow (Sept. 2015, Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481442718

Recommended for ages 13+

It’s a new world and it comes with a new age of warfare. When environmental cataclysm led to widespread war, an AI gained sentience and decided to end things his way: start bombing until everyone quieted down. Years later, under the Talis – the ruling AI – war is decidedly more personal: the children of the ruling parties are all held hostage, in a location called the Precepture, until the age of 18. If nations decide to go to war, the children of those nation’s leaders, known as the Children of Peace, are killed.

Greta is a Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, the superpower formed from the ashes of what we currently know as Canada. She and her co-hostages witness the arrival of a new hostage, Elian, who rebels with everything he has and endures painful punishments because of it. Elian’s parents are farmers, not diplomats, but his grandmother is a different story. Through Elian’s eyes, Greta begins seeing things very differently. Elian’s and Greta’s countries stand on the brink of war and the very real consequences stare them in the face, but things really swing into action when Elian’s grandmother takes things a step further and invades the Precepture, igniting Talis’ fury. A lot of people stand to die unless Greta can think of a solution that will save everyone.

This is an interesting concept – avoid war by making it more personal. Sadly, the AI seems to forget that world leaders want what they want, and sometimes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Children die in this story, don’t think for a moment that this is a benevolent dictatorship to keep the peace. Talis is an AI that’s got way too much emotion, and while parents feel really bad about being responsible for killing off their kids via third person, it happens.

Greta is an interesting character, taking in everything she sees. She’s not a victim and she’s not a martyr, but she’s not entirely a hero, either. She’s flawed, Elian’s is obnoxiously valiant, and the co-hostages are all doing what they can to survive. While Elian is tortured because he tries to rebel and refuses to accept his circumstances, comparing himself to Spartacus, Greta endures the brunt of the brutality to come with resignation.

The story is a near-unputdownable read, with solid character development and world-building, layered with plot twists and some truly cringe-worthy characters you’ll love to hate. You’ll rage inwardly at the world these children exist in, and I know I’ll never look at HAL from 2001 in the same way again (that’s the voice I ascribed to Talis). There’s a brilliantly diverse cast, and the real jewel in the novel is the relationship that develops between Greta and fellow hostage, Xie. The awakening and confirmation of their feelings for one another is portrayed beautifully and with tremendous respect, and it was a bright spot among the dark places in the story.

The Scorpion Rules should be a popular Fall read, and would be a great enhancement to a social studies class on world relations. I’m going to see if I can foist it upon my own 16 year-old, as well as the teens at my library. Off to create discussion questions!