CBR11 Bingo — Youths! Until last week, I always thought that the weirdest book I would read during the Cannonball Read era would be Grasshopper Jungle.
What could be stranger than a gigantic praying mantis army that wipes out civilization while a few teens figure out the truths about their sexuality in an underground bunker while dancing to the Rolling Stones?
Well, I’m here to tell you that I found something stranger. This book is much, much weirder.
Darryl and Kanga are twin brothers who live in Michigan when the story starts in the late 1980s. Like all good Michigan citizens, they worship local hero Magic Johnson and all things basketball.
But unlike the other kids that they go to school with and ride the bus with, Darryl and Kanga are robots.
They are robots who grow, and change, and think, and drink lots of liquids. Gallons and gallons of milk and vinegar.
They are incredibly life-like. But they are not human beings. And they live in a world where being a robot is the worst thing you could be. The last time they witnessed as a robot was discovered, they watched in horror as she was dismantled, thrown out the school bus window, and left for dead on the side of the road. By grade school children.
So, yeah. Darryl doesn’t want any one to figure out their secret.
Darryl works hard to make sure they blend in. He follows the rules set out in the massive tome of a handbook for all robots, The Directions. And he makes sure that they are never reported to Detroit (where all American robots are made) as being “Obsolete”. Once you are declared Obsolete, you disappear. Are you destroyed? Are your parts recycled? Nobody quite knows.
And Kanga? Kanga doesn’t quite seem as concerned as Darryl. In fact, it doesn’t really seem like Kanga even accepts the fact that he and his brother are different from everyone else.
When Darryl and Kanga were in the fourth grade, Darryl called Detroit and reported that his “parents” were Obsolete. His Mom and Dad were old models, and Darryl didn’t think they needed them anymore. One day, they disappeared while he and Kanga were at school, never to be seen or heard from again. Kanga doesn’t know that Darryl was the one who reported them, and still hopes that they’ll come home some day. While Darryl teaches himself to make tacos (all robots should know how to make one recipe, just in case humans show up for a meal), while Kanga teaches himself to eat fast-food and dresses like Jalen Rose and the rest of Michigan’s “Fab Five”.
Did I mention that this book is weird?
Eventually, Darryl discovers that Kanga has pretty much been programmed to be amazing at basketball. He joins the freshman basketball team, becomes a star player, and navigates the world of high school popularity. The team worships him, the cheerleaders love him, and the coaches are grateful for him.
Meanwhile, Darryl has yet to hit his growth spurt, so he has to watch his brother’s success from the sidelines, where he meets Brooke, the team manager. Darryl and Brooke maybe like each other, but can a robot fall in love??
Darryl tries to deal with all of the usual perils of navigating high school: sibling rivalry, first love, peer pressure, getting good grades, and fitting in…all while desperately trying to seem human and obsessing about having his robot-phobic (robophobic? Hmm.) community realize he is different.
If I was going to rate this book simply on its originality, I’d give it 5 stars. It was truly unlike anything I’d read before.
Did I love it? No. Not all of it. But it was an interesting spin on growing up and the anxiety that every teen feels about everyday things – like the need to be popular and the fear of being seen as “different”. And of course, every teen is pretty sure that they are smarter than their parents ever were.
It was maybe a little bit too quirky for me (AND THIS IS SAYING SOMETHING AS I LOVE ME SOME QUIRK), but it was a fun slice of early 90s suburban life, and how kids interacted before social media and cell phones.