Fuzzy may seem far-fetched, but it raises some interesting, real-world questions in an entertaining way.
Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger. Amulet, 2016, 253 pages.
Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 8-10
Recommended for: ages 8-12
There’s a new kid at school, only it’s not a kid kid but a very sophisticated, top-of-the-line humanoid robot going by the name of Fuzzy. Fuzzy is the result of an army project, and project manager Dr. Jones wants him to interact with his peers in order to learn social graces—or really, to learn how to adjust his own behavior without being programmed. Maxine Zelaster, better known as Max, is assigned to Fuzzy as a kind of mentor. As often happens in stories of this kind, she develops a fondness for him, which seems to be reciprocated. Or it is really? Is Fuzzy the “first free-will robot,” or is such a thing even possible? They might not have an opportunity to find out, because the mechanical boy is headed for a top-secret mission that could be the end of him. And Vice-principal Barbara, a computer with eyes and ears everywhere, could end him here and now.
Though not to be taken super-seriously, the story raises interesting points about automation, the limits of Artificial Intelligence, the over-regulation of learning and over-dependence on testing (there’s a Federal School Board in this future-world, which doesn’t seem very far-fetched), and the nature of free will. Also, what makes a human? As one character observes, “We may just have reached the point, with Fuzzy, where he’s human whether he’s flesh and blood or gears and circuit boards.” Think that will ever happen? It seems a bit more likely than it used to. Sixth-graders don’t need to wrack their brains about questions like this, but it’s not too early to be thinking about them, and Fuzzy is a fun way to start thinking
Cautions: Language (one use each of hell, badass, and omigod, as well as made-up swear words like zark, smoke, and by Gates)
Overall rating: 3.75 (out of 5)