Note: This post was used as a homework assignment and may contain spoilers.
There are two things that I think teens should pull from this book. First, adults are not always perfect. Two, “weak” characters can do strong things. A lot of times, in dystopian books especially, it seems that our main teenage characters are tasked with fixing the mistakes that the adults made. In this way, the idea of “imperfect adults” is not new. What this book has that is new, however, is the fact that the adults are working with the children to fix their mistakes, even while making new ones. I like that there is a codependency in the relationship as I feel that exists in real life as well.
The second, and most prevalent, idea that I mentioned shows that just because a character (or person) is “weak” in one aspect doesn’t mean that they as an entire person are “weak”. All of these children have terminal illnesses and, as is the case with Adam and DeShawn especially, have physical limitations. When they are released from their limitations, they have all kinds of potential. I think DeShawn especially shows this. He was arguably the most limited of the six characters but as soon as he gets into his robot, he starts cheering. This is Adam’s reaction: “I feel like cheering too. DeShawn’s not pretending. It’s the bravest thing I’ve ever seen” (pg 94). Throughout the book, DeShawn continues to be brave and shows that he’s just grateful to have this second chance at life. In their own ways, each of the Pioneers shows the strength that they have.
As mentioned in its Kirkus Review, this book “raises interesting questions about ethics, technology, and human nature”. I agree that the question of whether or not it was ethically right to put these kids (even though dying) into robots is a tough one. In addition, the question that Adam and his mother especially struggle with on what makes a person human is impossible to answer. Behind the action and the science, I believe that this book has a lot of themes that can inspire deep discussion among teens.
Some read-a-likes that I would recommend are Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Ender’s Game is similar because in both books, kids (or teens) have to fight a war started by adults. The adults would like to fight their own battles, but physically cannot because of the way their brains are. I thought of Ready Player One because of something that Adam says at the very beginning of the book. “That’s what I like about VR programs—how you can use them to build a virtual world that’s way better than ordinary reality” (pg 5). Ready Player One also has a main character that uses virtual reality in order to escape from his own, less-desirable reality.