From School Library Journal
Grade 4-6-Fifth-grader Brenton is a computer genius, but the other three members of his work group think he's a nerd. So, when he tells them that he has invented a machine that does homework, they taunt him until he agrees to demonstrate. The machine actually works, and Kelsey, Sam, and Judy convince him to let them use it. At first, they are delighted with their freedom, but things quickly get out of hand. Their teacher is suspicious of the suddenly errorless work, and other friends resent the time that they spend together. The dynamics within the group are stressful as well. Judy, a talented student, feels guilty about cheating, but is pressured to excel. Kelsey is concerned that her friends will shun her for associating with nerds, but her improved grades earn privileges at home. Wisecracking Sam makes fun of Brenton but needs his help in playing chess by mail with his dad, who is serving in Iraq. The children gradually begin to bond, especially after Sam's father is killed in combat. Eventually, their secret causes conflict with the law. The story is told entirely through short excerpts from police interviews. This device shows the developing relationships through the kids' own observations. There are touches of humor in the way the four classmates talk about themselves and one another. Ominous hints about the legal trouble maintain tension throughout the story, but its exact nature isn't revealed until near the end. A dramatic and thought-provoking story with a strong message about honesty and friendship.-Elaine E. Knight, Lincoln Elementary Schools, IL
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*Starred Review* Gr. 4-6. In a novel about a boy clever enough to make his computer do his homework for him, Gutman delivers a fresh take on an idea as old as Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine
(1958). The nontraditional narrative unfolds through the words of a large cast of characters, from a teacher to the police chief to the students in a fifth-grade class. Each chapter is a series of first-person entries, from a single line to a page in length, focusing primarily on four very different students who are assigned to the same group in school. Although they are not friends at the beginning of the book, they form an alliance of convenience that grows into something more after the temptation of a homework machine draws them together. A vivid subplot involves Sam, whose father is sent to war in the Middle East. This fast-paced, entertaining book has something for everyone: convincing characters deftly portrayed through their own words; points of discussion on ethics and student computer use; and every child's dream machine. Booktalkers will find this a natural, particularly for those hard-to-tempt readers whose preferred method of computer disposal involves a catapult and the Grand Canyon. Carolyn PhelanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved