A surprising parable about technology, nature, and free will, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown is beautiful, at turns heartbreaking, and deeply profound.
Title: The Wild Robot
Written by Peter Brown
Genre: Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 2016
Hardcover: 288 pages
When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. Why is she there? Where did she come from? And, most important, how will she survive in her harsh surroundings? Roz’s only hope is to learn from the island’s hostile animal inhabitants. When she tries to care for an orphaned gosling, the other animals finally decide to help, and the island starts to feel like home. Until one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her….
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print copy
Roz is a robot.
She does not know where she is from, or what her purpose is. More importantly, Roz has no idea where she is or why she exists at all.
What Roz does know is this: she is on an island surrounded by ocean as far as the eye can see. All the other robots, who were packed tightly in crates and boxes on the same ship as Roz, were smashed on the island’s rocky shore.
So Roz is utterly, completely alone.
Except… Roz isn’t actually alone. The island is a place of wonder and life–she sees crabs and foxes, bears and moose, geese and beavers as she makes her way from the rocky shore to the wooded lands beyond. But even though Roz can communicate and speak, her language isn’t known or understood by the wild island creatures–worse, Roz seems to frighten them.
Over time, Roz learns to speak the language of wild things. She learns to adapt herself to the island conditions and survive. She learns to become a mother to an orphaned gosling, and a friend to the many woodland creatures who inhabit the wild. Roz learns to think, to adapt, and to love.
But one day all of that changes. For Roz is from a different world–one of cities and smoke and robots performing all kinds of acts and tasks under humans–and sometimes the past refuses to go unheard. Roz must make the hardest choice of her entire life–with the lives of her family, friends, and the island itself hanging in the balance.
The Wild Robot is the debut middle grade novel from award-winning and best-selling picture book author-illustrator Peter Brown–someone whose work I had seen before, but hadn’t ever had much reason to engage with in the past. Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when I received this beautiful, trim paperback in the mail, with a blurb promising some thought-provoking discussion of robots v. nature. How could I resist? I immediately added the book to my reading roster… and oh my goodness.
I loved this book, dear readers. I loved it deeply.
A surprising parable about technology, nature, and free will, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown is beautiful, at turns heartbreaking, and deeply profound. Peppered with beautiful black and white illustrations throughout, told in rapid-fire short chapters, The Wild Robot is just as its title implies: it’s a tale of a robot in the wild. What the title doesn’t tell you, is that this is a story of a robot who develops a personality and an identity; it’s the tale of said robot, Roz, becoming a mother, a friend, and a protector of the wilderness that was so alien to her upon her nascent activation. We witness, through Roz’s robotic but somehow always mindful eyes, just how beautiful and harsh nature can be; we also learn about cause and effect, about personal responsibility, and about being a part of a larger community.
You see, as much as this is an accessible adventure book full of talking animals and new friends, The Wild Robot also teaches important and relevant lessons. Grappling with themes that are current issue touch-points as well as timeless motifs for discussion, The Wild Robot covers everything from motherhood (and not as a function of being a biological female), humanity, dystopian futures, global warming/climate change and the devastating effects on our natural ecosystem, violence, man versus nature, individuality, and the importance of kindness. To name a few. Suffice it to say, this is a book that covers plenty of ground.
As much as I loved the overall themes within this book, Brown’s obviously beautiful illustrations, there were a few small issues I took with the novel. Brown’s prose is a little choppy and at times, especially in the early chapters, tends towards heavy-handedness. (Also, from a nitpicky perspective, I’m not entirely sure which island ecosystem would support the creatures he mentions and the ensuing weather patterns that play such a big part of the story. Further, the assumption that all animals speak the same language, gather at dawn to have a morning truce, is a little silly given the gravitas attributed to the rest of the novel.)
And yet… these are truly minor nitpicks in what is a truly remarkable debut novel. I loved it dearly, and the ending resonates with me for days after finishing the volume. It’s the kind of book I want to give to young readers, recommend to older readers, and from which I want to buy a framed piece of art. (It’s a beautiful tactile object.)
Absolutely recommended, and thus far on my shortlist for notable books of 2016.
Notable Quotes/Parts & Additional Thoughts: Read a full excerpt online HERE (PDF). I also would like to urge everyone to read Peter Brown’s awesome post behind the creation of The Wild Robot.
Finally, has anyone read Pax by Sara Penypacker with art by Jon Klassen? It’s another middle grade book that I hear compared to this novel, earning rave reviews–I think I’ll have to tackle that book next.
Rating: 8 – Excellent