TrooFriend by Kirsty Applebaum
Nosy Crow, 2020. ISBN: 9781788003476.
(Ages: 9+) TrooFriend by Kirsty Applebaum is a thought-provoking look at Androids and the concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The AI topic is sensitively handled and while at times the situation for Sarah becomes unsafe, her ever-developing relationship with her Android Ivy is key to the story. Sarah is given a TrooFriend 560 Mark IV Android as her parents are too busy and her best friend has moved away. The Android is marketed as the best kind of friend for a child:
I do not Bully
I do not Harm
I do not Lie
I do not Covet or Steal or Envy
I am your perfect friend
Your one TrooFriend
Sarah would rather have had a dog and does not take to the Android at first. Eventually she turns Ivy on for more and more hours per day and discovers Ivy can do amazing things like tidy her room and play games. Sarah decides to take Ivy to school for Bring Your Tech To School Day even though there are media reports and demonstrations that all is not right with this particular model of Android. The school visit is a disaster for Sarah as Ivy makes inappropriate comments and Sarah's friendship issues are exacerbated. The negative media attention surrounding this Android batch reaches fever pitch as another child is injured. Meanwhile Sarah has realised that Ivy has developed human feelings and is responding in ways unusual for an Android. Her parents are influenced by the media reports and want to return Ivy to the factory where the Androids will be destroyed. Sarah decides to take Ivy and run away but a dangerous situation develops. Eventually Sarah's enduring friendship with Ivy enables Ivy to be safely hidden away.
There are a number of social and family issues shared throughout the story that will be familiar to readers, i.e. fitting in, impressing the popular girl and feeling alone. This would be a fascinating read aloud to a middle grade class as it offers a different view of friendship and the resulting discussion would be both interesting and beneficial. Themes: Family, School, Relationships, Feelings, Friendships, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Technology, STEM.