Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Genius: The Game, by Leopoldo Gout

Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, ISBN 9781250045812, May 2016

Rex Huerta is an American teenager, and a coding genius. His brother Teo was, too, but Teo has disappeared, and Rex is working on a way to find them. His parents reported his disappearance, but an older teen, one old enough to have simply decided to leave, with no evidence at all of foul play, is not a major priority. The elder Huertas, unlike their two sons, are undocumented, and without real evidence, they can't afford to push harder and annoy the police.

So Rex continues with his schoolwork and his blogging activities, while working on software that will enable him to find Teo. Oh, his blogging activities--a blog called the Lodge, where he provides brilliant coding solutions, his friend Tunde, in Nigeria, answers questions about how to build practically anything out of, essentially, junk, and Cai, a Chinese girl they and everyone else only knows as Painted Wolf, exposes corruption. Her research skills and surreptitious videos have brought down some powerful figures.

Among their other activities, Rex is trading coding services to a company that makes, among other things, really high-end cleaning supplies for the school janitor, who enables him to have unauthorized extra time on the school mainframe. Tunde built, out of junk, or as he prefers to say, "repurposed materials," a solar power generator to provide electricity, cell service, and some internet access to his tiny village. Painted Wolf, we should not be surprised to learn, is an ace student in China's demanding system, and a expert at making tiny, high-end, remotely controlled cameras.

And then their tech guru hero, Kiran Biswas, announces a contest. The Game. Details not provided until competitors are at the Boston Collective, and there is no application process. It's invitation only.

Rex needs access to a quantum computer to run the program he's written to find Teo. Tunde has unhappily caught the attention of an ambitious and ruthless Nigerian general, who wants him to build a GPS jammer powerful enough to be a weapon. He needs the help of his friends to make some thing that will work, and save his now-hostage family and village, without helping the general become an even more dangerous monster. Painted Wolf is busy uncovering a new and disturbing corrupt plot, which may affect her father, and would rather skip the whole thing--but then she discovers that both Kiran Biswas, and Tunde's problem general, are both involved.

But only two of the three get invitations. They all need to be there.

We get the story in alternating sections from the viewpoint of each of the three teenagers. They are smart, interesting, each motivated and principled in their individual ways, and yes, convincingly individual characters. Although, of course, add the caveat that I've never known teenagers living in China or Nigeria. Only smart young people of Latino background, whose parents might or might not be documented, fall somewhat within my experience.

But I like them, and found them believable.

It's fast-paced, intriguing, and while you are asked to suspend your disbelief, I don't find it beyond reasonable suspension of disbelief. This is a lot of fun.

Although, in fairness to the reader, I should mention that while the main story of this book comes to a reasonably satisfying end, there is also a significant cliffhanger. I assume there's more to come.


I received a free electronic galley of this book from some source I don't remember and can't quickly find in my email. I'm reviewing it voluntarily.

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