Book review of Tin by Pádraig Kenny
Tin by Pádraig Kenny is a middlegrade sci-fi book, about a boy and his robot friends. The book is published by Chicken House. I instantly fell for the artwork on the cover, and the description on the back.
Tin by Pádraig Kenny
“Orphan Christopher works for Mr Absalom, an engineer of mechanical children. He’s happy being the only “real” boy among his scrap-metal buddies made from bits and bobs – until an accident reveals an awful truth. What follows is a remarkable adventure as the friends set out to discover who and what they are, and even what it means to be human.”
The description here is kindly borrowed from the back of the book
A real boy and his buddies
I was into this book from the very beginning. Try to imagine a cross-over of Gepettos wood-shop where Pinocchio is made and somewhere the Tinman from The Wizard of Oz ‘grew up’. It’s very fun and futuristic while still being in an alternate universe. Already from the start, we sense friendship between Christopher and the robot-kids.
Each of them have distinct personalities, linked to how well they are made and what scraps have been used. We also easily get the science behind it explained throughout, without needing too much knowledge of machines. The characters are fun and quirky. Absalom however, is a shady person. Much like some of the guys from Annie or Oliver Twist. The robots and Christopher work for him, and are all dreaming of being bought/adopted.
Their main goal is to be as similar to real kids as possible.
Engineers, robots and bad guys
We quickly encounter some drama and high-speed danger, when there’s an accident. Christopher is abducted and the robot kids set out to find him. Without Absaloms help. The meet an engineer who was famous once, and get him to help them save Christopher. Getting there isn’t easy and they have to overcome several obstacles on the way to rescue their friend.
Meanwhile, Christopher is learning new truths about himself. Under the hands of another, more evil engineer. There are plenty of bad guys and good friends in Tin, and it’s kind of easy to spot who is who.
The once-famous engineer they bring with them, is very resourceful and one of the only truly nuanced characters in the story. He brought up the themes of ethics in artificial intelligence through his story. What do you owe the robots you give life to? What is your responsibility as a creator? Also, his backstory proved to be moving and quite touching, almost making me shed a little tear.
We have fights, friendships, bad guys and good guys. There are robots and sacrifices, science stuff and family. It’s a great mix for a middlegrade book. Enjoyed easily by adults too, if you’re into stories with the same vibe as Wizard of Oz and the like. Without going too much into detail, there is luckily a happy ending for our robot friends and Christopher.
They all end up as slightly improved or better versions of themselves, in a variety of ways. They grow and evolve through their adventures, which is cute and how it should be in these kinds of stories. However, I do have a problem with one of them, which seemed a totally unnessecary choice from Kenny. Tiny spoiler alert ahead!
..and a problematic happy ending
Round Rob, one of the main robot characters, is known for being kind, selfsacrificing and curious. He is built from scrap of a metal barrel and therefore round. This of course could translate to being chubby, and as robots and friends, nobody cares about Round Robs looks much. It’s all about the kids having different abilities, based on how they are built as robots. Anyway, in the end, one of them gets new legs, and others get oiled up nicely and perhaps a new wig or face, to make them more like “proper” children. It’s all good, since it’s an enhancement based on abilities, like being able to walk, and that makes sense. Round Rob, gets a skinny body.
This should all seem happy and dandy, but I can’t help but feel that this is indeed problematic on several levels. These robot kids being modeled into “more perfect, proper kids” is not integral to the story. Up until now, the message of the book was that everyone had value and was worthy of friendships and great deeds. And now Round Rob is reduced to Rob who likes to strut around showing off his new, skinny body. Not to mention the ableism of “improving” the other robot kids too, even though their upgrades are more functionally based.
I could’ve done without that bit of the ending, but other than that, it’s a wonderful book worth reading! Just, talk to your kid about the message in the book versus the ending, if you read it.
Have you read Tin or something similar to it? Let me know in the comments below!
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