Jinxed, by Amy McCulloch

I'm working my way through all the library books I had checked out before they closed (there were a lot of them; when I feel despondent at work I place library holds, and I guess I felt despondent a lot in March...).  In any event, this week I reached Jinxed, by Amy McCulloch (middle grade, Sourcebooks, Jan 2020 in the US), and what a very nice read it was!

Lacey Chu dreams of one day working for MONCHA, the premier tech company in North America that became rich and famous after its founder, Monica Chan, invented "baku," customizable robotic pets that are both smart phones etc. and companions (like Philip Pullman's daemons, but internet connected and needing to be charged).

Lacey thinks she'll be accepted to Profectus, the feeder academy for MONCHA.  She has the grades, and she's a whizz at repairing baku; she's made her apartment's basement storage space into her own workshop.  But she's rejected.  Instead of being launched into a career as a companioneer, designing the next generation of baku with a high level companion of her own, she has to make do with a basic level insect baku, and ordinary school.

Just when she's most miserable, she finds the remains of a baku in a muddy gully. It's recognizable cat-shaped, but mangled horribly.  All summer she works to fix it, marveling while she works at the sophistication of its design, which is like nothing she's ever seen, and she succeeds in restoring it to functionality.

 Right after it wakes up, she gets an acceptance letter to Profectus, and it seems like her dreams will come true. Jinx, as she calls him, is no ordinary baku.  He has a mind of his own, far from the complacent and unquestioning co-operation of ordinary companions.  And though Jinx opens doors to her, such as landing her a place in the competitive club of elite baku dueling at school, he also lands her into a world of trouble.

Jinx isn't supposed to exist, and there are powerful people who want to make sure he doesn't.

But he is real, and alive, and Lacey loves him...and she'll do anything to save him.

So for starters, this is a story about girls (not just Lacey) with mad tech skills.  Lacey's a maker constantly scavenging for materials to tinker with (money is tight in her home, so she has to find rather than buy what she needs),  and other girls are coders, and electronics whizzes (and founders of tech companies!).  It's also a friendship story, with one plot point being Lacey struggling to be a good friend to her bestie from her old school.  There's a bit of upper middle school romance, and considerable competition at school (Lacey must prove she has what it takes to be worthy of Profectus, and there's a nasty rich boy who hates her and wants to drive her out).  The school's baku battles are like mini-Hunger Games arena tournaments, adding excitement to the unfolding of the larger plot, and giving Lacey a chance to prove her tech credibility.  And on top of all this, there's also the mystery of Jinx--what is he?  And what does he have to do with troubling goings-on at MONCHA?

And as the final sci--fi icing on the cake, there's the question of whether an independent, intelligent, self-aware construct, which Jinx is, has the right to be autonomous.

The only part of all this that didn't work for me was the romance--the older, rich, good-looking boy in question reciprocated her interest too quickly and too easily for me to swallow it, but the target audience, not being as jaded as me, probably won't mind this at all.

It's a really fun read, especially if you like girls focused on their particular interest, and doing it brilliantly!  (if you like cats, you'll love it even more).  The sequel, Unleashed, came out in the UK last August, and I hope it gets here soon!


  1. Great review, this sounds like a really fun/interesting book that I would really like. Just a shame about the romance part, I think it would be a point I wouldn't like either.

  2. I thought I recognized Amy McCulloch's name, and I see that I read her Oathbreaker's Shadow and enjoyed it. This one sounds like it checks a lot of boxes for me! And ... no library e-book. Added to post-pandemic TBR!


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