Willful Machines - Tim Floreen

In the near future, scientists create what may be a new form of life: an artificial human named Charlotte. All goes well until Charlotte escapes, transfers her consciousness to the Internet, and begins terrorizing the American public.

Charlotte's attacks have everyone on high alert—everyone except Lee Fisher, the closeted son of the US president. Lee has other things to worry about, like keeping his Secret Service detail from finding out about his crush on Nico, the eccentric, Shakespeare-obsessed new boy at school. And keeping Nico from finding out about his recent suicide attempt. And keeping himself from freaking out about all his secrets.

But when the attacks start happening at his school, Lee realizes he's Charlotte’s next target. Even worse, Nico may be part of Charlotte’s plan too. As Lee races to save himself, uncover Charlotte’s plan, and figure out if he can trust Nico, he comes to a whole new understanding of what it means to be alive ... and what makes life worth living.


Aside from one line early in the novel* I really enjoyed Floreen's narrative style, the plot development, and the strong characters throughout the book (perhaps with the exception of the arch-nemesis, who I felt could have used more development or better foreshadowing.) The plot itself is fast-paced and enjoyable on many levels. The queer content blended with the futuristic sci-fi components makes the text both exciting and fresh.

The element of mystery surrounding Charlotte, Professor Singh, and even the role of Lee's farther (or not) in the terrorist attacks occurring throughout the United States. Though sci-fi in many respects, the book is eerily similar to the current political climate in the US today, with conservative political figures trying their best to limit freedoms under the guise of traditional values. The school Lee and Nico attend is an uber conservative private school based on legacies, at least for the most part. It's all very Ivy League.

The traditional values and humanist values of the ruling government in the novel very much increases the stakes of the queer elements of the novel, including Nico and Lee's developing friendship. Bex, a very strong female character in the novel, works hard to deconstruct and counter the attempts to redefine American values through her writing and investigative journalism. She attempts to guide Lee as well, in regards to his relationship with Nico, and his desire to take things further than she is actually comfortable with (at least at first.)

This is a really strong novel, and one that I feel will resonate with sci-fi and queer YA fans alike. Fans of Alex London's Proxy will find much to love here!

Recommended


*The one line in the early pages of the novel that caused me to pause, however, relates to the element of racialized descriptors used to determine Nico's origins: "He had one of those faces that could've passed for black, white, Pakistani, or Eskimo." I was under the impression (though perhaps this is my Canadian education taking over) that using "Eskimo" was rather, well, not PC these days.

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