Greg van Eekhout’s Cog (2019) is a surprisingly philosophical middle-grade novel featuring emotionally proficient robots, maniacal scientists, and hotdog eating challenges. The title character, Cog, was created to help scientists research cognitive development. On the outside Cog looks like a brown-skinned twelve-year-old boy, but he’s all metal and wire on the inside.
At the start of the book, Cog is living and learning with Gina, one of the scientists who helped create him. However, after a car accident leaves him injured, Cog wakes up in an unfamiliar room that doesn’t feel anything like the home Gina made for him. It turns out he is being held at one of uniMIND’s headquarters. uniMIND is the company that funded Cog’s creation. It is run by evil scientists invested in making money for stakeholders with no thought to ethics. Cog is able to escape with several other robots and they go on a zany road trip in search of Gina.
Cog is a very funny narrator. His primary function is to learn, and he shares random data with readers throughout the book. This provides comic relief from the urgency of the text’s action. Along with being funny, Cog is kind. He can feel more than the vile scientists who seek to study him (and perhaps, assuming it’s profitable, take over the world).
Cog offers an accessible meditation on what makes us human and suggests humanity isn’t necessarily the property of the folks we label human. This is a fun and accessible book for young middle-grade readers although older readers can certainly enjoy it as well!
I read and reviewed this for the Cybil Awards 2019 Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction category.