Saturday, June 4, 2022

Review: The School for Whatnots by Margaret Peterson Haddix

by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Release Date: March 1st, 2022
2022 Katherine Tegen Books
Kindle Edition: 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062838490
ASIN: B09688W6LM
Audiobook: B09K8T3MDZ
Genre: Fiction /Middle Grade / Science-Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
  No matter what anyone tells you, I'm real.

That's what the note says that Max finds under his keyboard.

He knows that his best friend, Josie, wrote it. He'd know her handwriting anywhere. But why she wrote it--and what it means--remains a mystery.

Ever since they met in kindergarten, Max and Josie have been inseparable. Until the summer after fifth grade, when Josie disappears, leaving only a note, and whispering something about "whatnot rules."

But why would Max ever think that Josie wasn't real? And what are whatnots?
My Thoughts
The School for Whatnots had a pretty interesting premise: surround a wealthy child with robots in order to protect him through his early childhood years from the usual torments and negative experiences as well as ensuring he doesn't grow up spoiled and privileged when he realizes exactly how wealthy he is.  Except one of the other 'androids' is actually a child pretending to be a robot as that is the only way she can get a class-A education.  I did read this book in one sitting, and while I really enjoyed the opening chapters, I don't think the themes were explored in depth and the last part of the book fell pretty flat although there were some pretty cool moments in there as well.

The first half of the book was actually pretty good.  I was vested in the friendship between Max and Josie and because Max had so little experience with other children, he didn't realize she was not like the other children in his class.  Because it is not abnormal for two children to seriously bond, no one would think their friendship was unusual.  And that is also where I had issues with this book.  Josie was a very unusual child, very inquisitive, and couldn't sit still.  I just couldn't imagine the adults in this world had so little scientific background that they would not have noticed that her behaviour was so completely different from the others? There was some talk about Josie's schematics being corrupted, but nothing was ever done about it. Even as a child I would have questioned that.  

The second part of the book however, I had to just kind of go with things and try and imagine a child reading this book.  Then, I thought, nope.  It was just too much.  Luckily, I liked the characters although I can't say I was particularly attached to any of them except maybe Josie.  

There were a lot of themes running through this book and I do feel like the author didn't quite explore a lot of them to the depth they could have been explored.  I was especially disappointed that the distinction between the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor wasn't overly discussed in this book as it played a huge role and is something that could have been highlighted a bit more.  Friendship was another theme that could have been explored a bit more, especially the concept of friendship between an android and a child. 
The School for Whatnots had a lot of potential and I did really enjoy the first half of this book.  I liked the concept used to explore themes of bullying and abuse although I do not think the author went deep enough into the topic and some of the issues were too easily resolved.  I would have liked a bit more discussion on the world and the deep economic problems that existed and why.  Overall however, I do think middle grade readers will enjoy this book and get a lot out of it.  


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