Cheerio my flesh and non-flesh friends and compatriots! I have a delightful little cross-species tale for you today, and for extra delightedness, it has a delightfully long title. I speak, of course, of middle grade sci-fi adventure story, Henry and the Incredibly Incorrigible, Inconveniently Intelligent Smart Human by Lynn Messina. The book was published in 2012 and it has been a grave disservice indeed that I have not been exposed to it earlier than this, for it is a fun, funny and very clever read. So it was incredibly lucky that I received a digital copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!
The book follows the story of young robot Henry Jacobson, who has a tough time in Bot school due to a problem in his processor that causes him to shut down at inopportune moments when he is under stress. As well as teasing at school, Henry has to put up with working with the drooling, stupid and frustrating human units that do the drudge work at his mother’s Beauty Salon. After one of the human units goes beserko, smashing up the store with a mop and repeating nonsense at regular intervals, Henry finds himself teased even more at school when his mother gets the credit for sorting out the beserko unit and saving the lives of all the bots in the salon. Things get even stranger for Henry when, after a mysterious visit from his father’s boss, an experimental human unit (the HueManTech ETC-420- GX-2) comes to live in his home. After an initial period of distrust, Henry begins to discover that this particular unit seems to be able to do far more than just drool and threaten bots with household cleaning products. Soon, Henry and E (as he comes to be known) are playing video games, making up new words and generally doing plenty of things that Henry would have thought were impossible for a lowly human. When a threat is made to send E to be compacted, Henry knows that he must find out the truth behind this seeming superhuman who has become his friend. Cue misadventure! Cue sneaking around! Cue the uncovering of secrets that will change the Bot universe….forever!!
* you ever have days when you suspect that your reality affirmulator might be on the blink
* you have ever had fond feelings…the basis of friendship really, …for a household appliance
* you are acquainted with some human units who are capable of little more than drooling and mopping…on their good days
* you know a bot or two in their tweens or teens who can’t go past a good adventure based sci fi
I am so pleased that I was introduced to this story. For a middle grade sort of a story, it is very, very clever. There’s a lot to appreciate here for older readers, with lots of little wry observations of human nature, reflected back through robot society. Henry is a very believable bot, with all the flaws and worries of any thirteen year old being and human unit E is laid back, quietly confident and a joy to read about. The book is great fun with heaps of funny situations and some fantastic one-liners.
To top all of that though, there’s also plenty of action and suspense. At one point, Henry and E break into a government agency and get chased by the authorities, get captured, uncover some shocking secrets and use their wits and wiles to save themselves from danger. I was really worried for the lads during this part as there were some real challenges for them both to surmount.
If you’ve got young male readers around your dwelling, this is definitely a book you should add to your collection. It will be thoroughly enjoyed by confident independent readers, but if you have to read it aloud to less confident readers, there is plenty here for grown ups to enjoy along with their mini-fleshling.
So who exactly came up with this highly read-worthy tome? Well I’m glad you asked because you’re about to meet her!
Lynn Messina grew up on Long Island and studied English at Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked at the Museum of Television & Radio (now the Paley Center for Media), TV Guide, In Style, Rolling Stone, Fitness, ForbesLife, Self, Bloomberg Markets and a host of wonderful magazines that have long since disappeared. She mourns the death of print journalism in New York City, where she lives with her husband and sons. She is author of seven novels, including Fashionistas, which is in development as a feature film and has been translated into 15 languages.
You can find out more about Lynn’s work here, but for your convenience, I asked her some questions about Henry, E and her writing so you can be well prepared if you bump into her at a dinner party/sock hop/other impromptu social occasion.
Why Henry and E? What was it about their story that won out over other stories that may have been jostling for space in your CPU?
To be honest, my CPU isn’t as busy as you think it is. I find good ideas are really hard to come by, and when I get one, I run with it. I might not sit down and start writing immediately, but the idea takes up all my mental energy. So when I came up with the idea of robots inventing humans it was all I thought about for months. I jotted down notes about it everywhere. In fact, I was just cleaning out a drawer yesterday and found a scrap of an envelope from, like, six years ago on which I’d written some early ideas while at my day job.
Who do you picture as the ideal reader of Henry?
The ideal reader for Henry is the same ideal reader I have for all my books, and it’s the sort of reader I am: someone who will love the story enough to reread it at least once to discover all the little things she missed the first time around.
The title is absolutely astoundingly all-round alliterative…Are you a fan of wordplay? And how did you choose the title?
The title has been a problem for me from the start. The working title was Henry, ETC, and that’s the title under which I submitted it to publishers. When I decided to put it out on my own, I realized I needed a much more descriptive title, one that really said what it was about, so I threw in all the adjectives and made them alliterative because I think that’s so much fun. I wasn’t daunted by the long title because one of my favorite books when I was little wasAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Recently, however, a librarian suggested that the title was off-putting to young readers, and now I’m conflicted. But, yes, I love wordplay, and that was one of the things that made me really excited about the story. There were so many opportunities to turn words on their heads.
What are the best parts about writing for young readers?
I feel like the answer should be that writing for young readers allowed me be as silly as I wanted, but the truth is I love writing silly scenes and all my books descend into silliness at one point or another. The unique thing about writing Henry—and this was all the best part—was that it was science fiction. Henry was the first book I ever wrote that left the real world behind. I got to invent everything and make up all the rules (and change them when they no longer suited my purpose) and use my imagination freely. I thoroughly enjoyed that.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
This is tough because I feel like the authors I mention should be relevant to the genre and I can’t think of many middle-grade writers I’ve read. Recently, I’ve been reading the Ivy & Bean series to my six-year-old and have been really enjoying it. I will say that J.K. Rowling (of course!) was a big influence because she’s so good with language and wordplay. I had Diagon Alley in my mind almost the whole time I was writing as a sort of talisman of the wit I was going for.
What do you imagine Henry will be doing when he reaches his 21st upgrade? And E?
This is an impossible question for me to answer. I have notes somewhere with ideas for two sequels and I’m fairly certain the trilogy ends with the entire transformation of robot society. But I can’t see beyond that. To be honest, I can’t even see that far because the ideas are so vague. I hope to write at least one of the sequels one day, but it’s been six years since I wrote the book and now there are definitely other things taking up space in my CPU.
And now, the giveaway! We are offering one lucky reader the chance to win a print copy of the book and better yet, the giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY!
Here’s the deets:
– The giveaway is open internationally, so provided you live on planet Earth and have a postal address, you should be right to enter
– One winner will be chosen at random via rafflecopter and will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a redraw will occur.
– No responsibility will be taken for packages lost in the mail. Sorry.
– The giveaway is in no way related to WordPress, Goodreads, Rafflecopter, Facebook or any other individual or company that is not me.
– I will be checking entries, so be honest.
I should probably also point out that the book would fit nicely into a couple of categories in the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge…category four (a book with someone’s name in the title) and category eight (a book with wordplay in the title). Click on this attractive button to find out more and jump on the safari bus!
In short? Get it, it’s clever. And we all know that there’s nothing better than a clever book that’s meant for kids but sneakily discovered by a grown up.
Until next time,