Cager has been transported to the Tennessee, a giant lunar-cruise ship orbiting the moon that his dad owns, by Billy and Rowan to help him shake his Woz addiction. Meanwhile, Earth, in the midst of thirty simultaneous wars, burns to ash beneath them. And as the robots on board become increasingly insane and cannibalistic, and the Earth becomes a toxic wasteland, the boys have to wonder if they’ll be stranded alone in space forever.
This was such a weird book. That’s not a bad thing, in this case. Throughout all of the random weirdness it never loses sight of the story the author is trying to tell, or the themes being expressed. Also, I like weird. Especially the kind of weird that makes you laugh in shock and mutter ‘wtf is happening???’ while reading. This book is not just a good read–this book is an experience.
First, another bit of recap because the summary really doesn’t go into much. Rabbit & Robot takes place in the somewhat near future. Earth is a giant mess and robots have pretty much taken over all the jobs on Earth with the exception of a few. Humans are left with two choices, either to be coders or bonks. Bonks are soldiers. This is an important job because there are pretty much always wars going on, and a lot of them all at once, and over really stupid things. Most kids grow up going to school where they’re given strict doses of a drug called woz for some reason. Woz can be highly addictive, however, and our main protagonist, Cager Messer, has developed an addiction despite not going to school. Cager, and his friend Billy, are not like other kids. They’re the elite of the elite–their fathers are uber-rich and own pretty much everything. Billy’s dad owns the company responsible for making all of the robots (aka cogs) and Cager’s dad owns all kinds of stuff but is famous for producing the hit show Rabbit & Robot, a show about a bonk and a cog named Mooney.
Billy, tired of seeing his friend slowly killing himself on woz, decides it’s time for an intervention. Along with Rowan, Cager’s stoic caretaker, they whisk Cager off to his dad’s space cruise ship, the Tennessee, orbiting the moon. The plan is to get Cager away from the woz for a while so that he can clean himself up. Since there’s no one on board the Tennessee, except for a ton of cogs that run the ship in every position from Captain down to valet and even zoo animals, the ship may seem like an ideal place to get away. But not long after arriving, it becomes apparent that things seem to have gone horribly wrong back on Earth–it looks like the entire planet has become a bit…crispy.
This future is weird, for sure, and stuff just keeps getting more and more weird. We’re introduced to a couple of other characters, Meg and Jeffrie, two girls who are also trying to get off the planet. Jeffrie is a burner–basically a pyromaniac. Why are some people burners in the future? Who knows. Maybe some people just like to watch the world burn. Literally. The girls sneak on board the Tennessee, disguised as cogs, unbeknownst to Cager and Billy who are thinking their little group of three are the last humans left alive.
So, yes, this book is really weird and not just because of all the weird stuff that happens in it. The style in which it’s written is very distinct. The chapters are short and cover very specific events. There’s a ton of stuff about sex, sexual feelings and thoughts, sexuality in general, etc. I was not prepared for the amount of times I’d read the word ‘erection’ in this book. That being said, I thought it was all written in such a casual way, and why shouldn’t it be? These things are a part of life, after all. If I was a little surprised to find so much of this covered in a YA book, I quickly got over that. I think it’s an interesting choice not to shy away from topics like sex and drug addiction when writing for teens. Why sugar coat the world?
As far as setting, this book was probably the furthest thing from reality that’s set in our future that I’ve ever read. It feels like life is highly regimented (school, everyone having their place in society) but also full of chaos (wars constantly breaking out, the randomness of the R&R show). I guess in some ways that’s like our world, but here it’s taken to an extreme. On the Tennessee it’s one of those ‘no expense spared’ type places, and it feels super indulgent. I mean, there’s a lake. Inside a space ship.
The cogs are especially interesting. Cogs, just looking at them, are pretty much indistinguishable from humans. But cogs don’t really act like humans. The latest, the v.4 cogs, can express emotions but are generally only given one emotion to focus on. So we end up with cogs that are always outraged, or depressed, or joyful, or horny. We get to know a few of them on board the Tennessee. Lourdes, the cruise directer, is always super positive and excited about everything. Parker, Cager’s personal valet who is a ‘horny type’ cog is constantly coming on to Cager and informing him of his erections. There are others as well. I think the boys’ reactions to the cogs are interesting. Billy, whose father is responsible for the cogs, hates them with a passion. He wouldn’t care if they were all destroyed. Cager is more indifferent, but that changes over the course of the book.
There’s a lot explored in this book but I think some of the themes remain true for YA, while others are universal. Figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life–this is Cager’s biggest issue. He is a bit clueless and he’s floundering. Billy, on the other hand, always seems confident, but maybe he’s got some things to learn as well.
One of the other things that comes up in the book is what it means to be human. We have humans living among all these robots and sometimes it feels like the robots are very human, despite them only being able to express one emotion, and they’re pretty extreme at that. Cager keeps reminding himself that they’re only machines, toaster ovens or can openers, but he finds himself soon feeling empathy for some of them. It’s through his interactions with all the characters, the robots and the humans, that he’s finally able to start getting a grip on his own life.
Overall, I really loved Rabbit & Robot. I was drawn in by the weirdness, stayed for even more weirdness, and by the end I fell in love with the heart of it all. I don’t think it’s a book that would appeal to all readers, but if you enjoy weirdness, randomness, and self-exploration you may want to give this one a try. 4.5/5 stars.
Thanks to the folks at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for sending me a copy for review purposes. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.