Smasher, by Scott Bly (Blue Sky Press, March, 2014, middle grade)
The future is in jeopardy--a madman who has managed to combine incredible technology with the psychic energies of nature (the Hum) is about to enslave mankind by with an infections cocktail of computer code and manipulated DNA. In the 16th century, a boy named Charlie can manipulate the hum even more wonderfully than the madman in the future. And Charlie's ability to solve puzzles has been honed to a razors edge by his grandfather, and his survival instincts have been honed to a razors edge by fear of bullies and inquisitors....
Travelling between the two times is a girl named Geneva, a robot with miraculous powers of her own. She comes to get Charlie, and take him to the future, where the two will stand together as last hope for humanity. (There's a dog too, a very nice indeed puppy with enhancements of her own....there's also an enhanced gorilla, which you don't see that often, but he plays a relatively minor role).
And there's plenty of action, as the bad guy and his minions try to hunt down Charlie and Geneva, and they try to escape while foiling.
It was an enjoyable read, and it's a very good introduction to that fine speculative fiction question of how human a robot can be. I liked Geneva very much! Charlie was fine too, but with a relatively straightforward, what you see is what you get, character. Geneva comes with Mysteries and Questions.
This is one I'm happy to recommend to kids of ten and eleven or so, moving into sci fi action books. It offers a nice serving of age-appropriate violence, which is to say there are deaths, and torture, but not disturbingly graphic, and balanced by a lot of sewer-related discomfort. (Even if a kid's read The Hunger Games and Ender's Game already, I don't think there's any reason to hurry toward ever more violence.) However, there is considerable cruelty toward animals, which the bad guy is manipulating in his lab of evil--this could well cause distress!
The action is balanced by dashes of (not tremendously subtle) philosophy about good vs evil, and by the friendship between Geneva and Charlie, which was a pleasure to read about. And I think the time travel element will appeal to that audience as well--there's a friendliness to a protagonist who's plunked, like the reader, into a strange and alien landscape where much is confusing at first.
That being said, I myself found the time slip element unsatisfactory. There's not a lot of time spent in the 16th century, and were it not for the fact that we are told the year is 1542, there's really no way to know. Likewise, I felt Charlie's easy acceptance of the future somewhat unconvincing. (It's also hard for me not to care about details like names--as I know the name Charles hadn't made it across the English Channel yet....and how can a boy living in a remote mountain village have three tutors, unless he's the aristocracy, which he doesn't seem to be?).
I also wasn't quite satisfied with the back story--when I'm told right at the beginning of the book that the protagonist's harsh grandfather has blood on his hands, and is apparently a murderer, I expect this to be explained, if not resolved, clearly and with conviction, and (even though I read fast I don't think I missed anything) the details stayed pretty murky.
But I don't think my two issues are the sort that will affect the reading pleasure of the target audience, especially the target audience for fast-paced sci-fi excitement. Especially recommended for the computer geek kid-coding plays a bit part in the story!
Here's the Kirkus review.
Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher