After blindly following AL through his “sifted” and “filtered” reality, in the process learning how to pump out copycat creations that will attract the most followers, Charlie eventually takes a stand against AL and insists on marching to the beat of his own drum. “I’ll-go-rhythm instead,” he declares, opting to “explore real places” and offering readers a last-minute lesson about the origins of happiness: “It comes from helping others and having real relationships.” Adult readers will find the book’s championing of imagination and individuality valuable, though the moral about “real” relationships might land with more power if Charlie developed one within the story itself.
Illustrator Kayla Stark employs subdued hues and delicate lines to illuminate the story, and her geometric drawings fit the quirky theme. Especially effective: a haunting vision of a chain of identical children in violet coats, holding each others’ hands and bright red hearts, saying “We’re all alike. That’s what we do.” Webb’s rhyming is occasionally forced, but young readers will enjoy some of the more clever and tongue-twisting moments. The conceit of collecting those hearts as a measure of “how much you’re liked,” and a hint about online news being filtered to promote conformity, are heavy topics for the age group, but most readers will find the theme—and the warning—relevant and resonant.
Takeaway: A young boy learns that creativity beats out conformity in this cautionary tale against online living.
Great for fans of: Matteo Loglio’s Many Intelligences, Michael Rex’s Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: A