The Firefly Code, by Megan Frazer Blakemore (Bloomsbury, middle grade, May 2016), is the story of a friendship that shatters one girl's perfect world, forcing her to question everything she's taken for granted about her safe and sheltered life. Mori and her friends live in a company town, Old Harmonie, where everything is beautifully organized and carefully planned. The kids themselves are products of that careful planning--they are a mix of genetic engineering and nature, and each kid gets a further brain tweek when they become teenagers, to bring a latent gift to the surface. All pretty idyllic.
But then a new girl arrives, and Ilana is even more perfect than everyone else. Almost too perfect....but just right for Mori, who becomes her best friend, straining her old best friendship almost to the breaking point.
And when Mori and the other kids on Firefly Street start exploring the one non-confirming house in the neighborhood, the abandoned home of one of the company founders, they find out that the utopia in which they live isn't, exactly, all that utopian. More emotionally important to Mori, she finds out that Ilana, though she seems perfect, might in fact be a lot more flawed than is good for her in this small closed world where perfection is supposed to be achievable.....
So this is one that I would give in a heartbeat to a middle grade girl of ten or eleven who has to read a science fiction book for school, but who prefers middle school girl friendship drama and growing up stories to speculative fiction. Blakemore does a fine job with this part of her story. She does a perfectly reasonable job with the sci fi part too....but the problem with being someone who's already read thousands and thousands of speculative fiction books is that I didn't feel there was much that was all that different or excitingly fresh about this scenario (it reminded me quite a bit of Masterminds, for instance). I'm perfectly willing to concede the point that the target audience members haven't had time yet to read thousands of books, and so it's one that will work lots and lots better for them then it did for me. I thought it was fine, perfectly solid but not all that exciting; they might well think it's wow!
That being said, the ending opens the way to more story that has the potential to wow even cynical hardened me, and I will eagerly pounce on any sequel that comes along! And also that being said, I can't think of many other books that do a good job with real-world 12 year old friendship issues in the context of a sci fi dis-utopia, and so this one does offer something fresh in that regard.
Here's the Kirkus review, if you want a second opinion; they call it, and I don't disagree, a "welcome addition to the dystopic utopia genre."
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher at ALA Midwinter