It’s somewhere between WW1 and WW2 in alternate history England, and robotics engineers and their creations are governed by The Agency, a shadowy and authoritarian government entity. They have to be: Robots can be made to resemble humans, and technology exists to ensoul them.
While eleven-year-old Christopher remembers his time at the orphanage fondly, he is happy to be the only “Proper” boy among his robot friends in Mr. Absalom’s junkyard. The slimy inventor may be loathsome and unlicensed, but he has built a group of robots who with Christopher, form an unbreakable squad: Round Rob, The Gripper, Jack, and Manda.
Then one day a routine little-boy misadventure reveals the truth: Christopher is a robot himself. Worse, he’s the most illegal kind: Made to look exactly like a human and… could he possibly be infused with a real human soul?
The back cover of the book helpfully points the reader to the specific page of this earth-shattering part.
When The Agency raids the junkyard, arrests Absalom, and kidnaps Christopher, his robot family is devastated and teams up with undercover preteen female mechanic Estelle (on the run from an abusive human father) to rush to his rescue.
Rescue can only come from reclusive mechanical genius Philip Cormier, whose legendary and highly illegal Diviner can rescue souls from the Afterwards and infuse them with robots through psychonic adhesion.
But why is the reclusive Cormier so hostile toward “Flesh”? More importantly… why does he have a picture of Christopher in his house?
TIN presents a lot of twists and turns rooted in complex moral questions. Namely, bad-guy Blake is one of the more complex antagonists I’ve seen in Middle Grade. His dramatic defeat doesn’t wrap everything up with a happy ending, but rather makes the reader reflect whether it’s wrong to bring your loved ones back if you can.
While throughout the book, the humans insist that robots have no feelings, empathy or compassion… just below TIN’s action-packed surface, it’s easy to see that the robots are the only ones who consistently display these qualities.
TIN is half steampunk, half science fiction, and all heart.
Perhaps it’s the US cover, reminiscent of Emerald City, but there are a lot of the same undertones as Wizard of Oz (just grittier). Give to fans of Peter Bunzl’s COGHEART (check out my review) or Jonathan Auxier’s SWEEP , probably with a hug and some tissues.
Also, give to a writer looking for a great mentor text for a multi-layered and morally complex backstory.
TIN releases March 26, 2018 from Scholastic.