The Proto Project
by Bryan R. Johnson
Candy Wrapper Inc.

"Thaddeus never liked deadlines, but Madame X’s deadlines were not ones he could miss. Her deadlines actually meant death."

Jason Pascal’s mother works at a high-tech, super-secretive company. When Jason and his classmates are allowed a field trip to the company, Jason fears his mother will embarrass him with her boring, techie talk. However, this field trip will be like no other; Proto, the AI Jason’s mother has been building, decides to stowaway in Jason’s pocket and leave the building. On top of that, Jason’s mother goes missing, shady characters are following Jason, and the FBI decides it is a good time to visit the Pascals’ residence. Not knowing who to trust, but with the help of his spunky new friend, Maya, and an AI devouring information like M&M's, Jason sets out to save his mother, keep Proto from falling into the wrong hands, and not lose his life in the process.

Johnson sets out to write a book which is remarkably elusive: a decent science fiction tale for children. And, for the most part, he has delivered. The characters are likable, but the real show-stealer is Proto, the tarantula-sized AI that consistently has the best ideas, delivers the best lines, and saves the day. There is a lot of fun to be had in this book for a young reader—and a lot of suspension of belief for it to work—but it does. Targeted at a younger crowd than Louis Sachar’s recent Fuzzy Mud, it manages to carry the reader on a quick-turning, thrilling ride much like the Saturday morning action cartoons of the 1980s. Upper elementary readers looking for a fast adventure with a sci-fi setting will likely enjoy Proto and his adventure.

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