Reviewed by Angela Marie
This morning I sat on a train reading a novel written for children. At times I was smiling, at times moved. Always engaged.
The novel was BOOT and as the cover tells us Boot is a small robot on a big adventure.
The reader immediately realises our hero is not human. It is a soft, huggable robot that has been programmed to recognise danger and now becomes aware of a change in personal circumstance. Not only is it in a scrapyard with machines chomping away at discarded robots, it has a program glitch, making very little memory available. It remembers being loved by its owner, Beth. It must escape and make its way back to Beth who will be heartbroken without her beloved robot. It must outwit and escape the clutches of the villainous scrapyard operator who relishes pulling robots apart and who may appear more than once in this novel.
Boot’s world is one where robots walk side by side in the service of humans, usually doing the less desired tasks. Robotic pets abound. This is a brave new world. There is an undercurrent of A I rebellion and awareness. Note Noke’s Rules of the Street Number Whatever. Some robots are starting to emote and form communities for self-protection and companionship, slipping into disused places. Meanwhile our robotic hero acknowledges the foibles of humans. Boot observes them becoming less sociable, less caring about the needs of others, particularly the elderly, and less aware of the mountains of plastic formed when most toys have a useful life of less than six months.
This is a story of salvation in the style of an epic. There is escape from the seemingly inescapable, a dangerous and difficult journey into the unknown, meeting and bonding with heroes who become comrades, and limits pushed beyond expectation. There is the discovery and acceptance of true self as Boot chooses not to be known by a name previously bestowed. A book sure to whet an appetite for reading. Although we may perceive character traits in the robots that we may be conditioned to view as either masculine or feminine, there is no gender assigned by the author, making this a more inclusive read.
Will Boot be reunited with Beth? Will they live happily ever after?
BOOT resonates with many of life’s important lessons – know who you are, support your friends and care for those you love, respect and support the elderly and the environment. There is an acknowledgement that everyone has a story.
BOOT is a novel with heart. It is highly recommended for the young independent reader of chapter books and would be a much-enjoyed share-together bedtime story, read over several nights.
Author Shane Hegarty has written a captivating novel. Now a full-time writer, he was previously a journalist and editor of the Irish Times. He has also worked in radio and music. His Darkmouth series, geared to middle-grade readers, is being developed into an animated feature film. BOOT is the first book in his first series for younger readers. Sure to be treasured by those readers, having passed the test set by his own four avid young critics.
BOOT is greatly enhanced by the drawings of Ben Mantle, an award-winning artist who illustrated the 2013 Bishop’s Stortford Picture Book winner, Callum’s Incredible Construction Kit. He has shown interest in art since childhood, continuing on to study animation at Surry Institute of Art and Design and participating in many diverse projects.
Written by Shane Hegarty
Illustrated by Ben Mantle
ISBN 978 1 44494 936 0
240pp; PB $14.99