Malorie Blackman, Robot Girl

Barrington Stoke, 2015, ISBN 978-1-78112-459-8

Any new Malorie Blackman novel raises high expectations. Robot Girl certainly lives up to them. A Barrington Stoke publication, it's written with struggling readers in mind, so is short and in accessible language. The hefty punch it packs is no less for that.

Claire's inventor father always keeps her in the dark about his projects but finally she is going to see his latest invention, and she can't wait. She eagerly messages her new pen-friend Maisie before setting off to the lab with her mother. But AI-E's rounded look and softness to the touch make Claire recoil. Her father describes his use of 4000 year-old DNA. When he proudly explains that he not only modelled AI-E's face on Claire's but also imprinted her brain patterns into its processor, her dislike turns to horror. She feels utterly betrayed. AI-E now has a mind of her own, she hears. Her processor grows as she learns, and sends electrical and chemical signals, an ability beyond anything even Claire's father had thought possible. Claire's turmoil is no way lessened when AI-E speaks to her. Her desperate pleas to her father to get rid of his creation fall on deaf ears. On the way home her mother tells her she must learn to put aside her feelings, as adults do. 'That's what sets us apart from other creatures', she's told.

Claire shares her anguish with Maisie as she tries to find a way to destroy AI-E. What happens next confounds and challenges her to the core.

The reader too is confounded and challenged. Robot Girl asks questions about what it means to be human. A subtle coded message on the back suggests a reading age of 8 and an interest level of 8-12. Older children will also find it deeply satisfying.