*Starred Review* The probability of his temperamental dad finding out that Jim has borrowed several high-tech security cameras for a science fair project turns out to be the least of his worries in this offbeat thriller. Set up in a seedy North Minneapolis junkyard near the river in hopes of observing otters, the cameras immediately disappear after a flash of weird footage. Should Jim and his seventh-grade friends believe the claim of Ted, a decrepit local? He says the yard, the site of an experimental robot lab that was destroyed years ago in a huge explosion, is haunted. Told in a spare, matter-of-fact narrative, this packs the space between the lines with humor, drama, romantic tension, and deftly delivered insight into the characters of a diverse, well-developed cast. The tale pitches Jim and his classmates (with significant help from his smarter little sister, Penny) into designing, constructing, and testing homemade battle robots both as plan B for the science fair and as a later entry in a competition at a nearby mall. The latter hard-fought contest presages a similar but much larger scale climactic bashfest in the wake of revelations that the junkyard is indeed inhabited—by feral, self-programming robots capable of violence and murder. Scaletta amps up the voltage with suspense and excitement, but he also seamlessly integrates family issues and peer dynamics and cybernetic feats that seem only slightly futuristic. Grades 6-9. --John Peters
Starred Review, Booklist, December 1, 2013:
“Told in a spare, matter-of-fact narrative, this packs the space between the lines with humor, drama, romantic tension, and deftly delivered insight into the characters of a diverse, well developed cast.”Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2013:
"A deft mix of middle school drama and edgy techno thrills."