Lacey Chu has always dreamed of working as an engineer for MONCHA, the biggest tech firm in the world and the company behind the “baku”―a customizable “pet” with all the capabilities of a smartphone. But when Lacey is rejected by the elite academy that promises that future, she’s crushed.
One night, Lacey comes across the broken form of a highly advanced baku. After she repairs it, the cat-shaped baku she calls Jinx opens its eyes and somehow gets her into her dream school. But Jinx is different than any other baku she’s ever seen…he seems real.
As Lacey settles into life at school, competing with the best students in a battle of the bakus that tests her abilities, she learns that Jinx is part of a dangerous secret. Can Lacey hold on to Jinx and her dreams for the future?
- Title: Jinxed
- Series: Jinxed, Book 1
- Author: Amy McCulloch
- Cover Artist: Vivienne To
- Publisher: Sourcebooks Young Readers
- ISBN: 1492683744
- Publication Date: January 7, 2020
- For Ages: 8-12
- Category: Middle Grade
- Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? 😿 Spooky-Sad.
- Content Warning: simulated animal cruelty
I’d like to thank Sourcebooks Young Readers for providing a copy via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration.
Billed as “The Golden Compass for the digital age,” Jinxed is a suspenseful, heartbreaking, and timely middle grade thriller. It doesn’t focus on religion like its inspiration; rather, it explores the ubiquity of technology and the privacy concerns that come from living in a world where most people are literally leashed to their phones.
In the late 21st century, most people have bakus, or digital pets that work much like our smart phones do. People get implants so that they can physically leash the bakus to themselves for charging. The bakus are the brainchild of Monica Chan, creator of tech giant MONCHA and personal hero of protagonist Lacey Chu. Lacey is a talented engineer, and when she runs across a damaged baku, she takes it home to fix it and discovers that it has some unusual properties. Once she leashes the baku, she starts to realize just how unusual it is, and together they go down a dangerous path of technological and corporate intrigue.
The bakus are similar to the dæmons from His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman’s trilogy that begins with The Golden Compass, or Northern Lights, as it is called outside North America) in that they are simultaneously a part of their “owner” and a separate creature. Jinxed adds a stomach-churning element to this dynamic by depicting baku battles, wherein bakus physically fight and occasionally destroy one another. The bakus are made out of metal and cables, but they are designed to mimic “real” animals as much as possible, so the fight scenes can be very difficult to read, especially since the human owners bond so closely with their bakus and usually view them as cherished pets.
The question of where the line is between “real” and simulated animals is deliberately left unanswered, as is the resolution to the book’s intertwining plot threads. Jinxed ends on a massive cliffhanger (don’t worry, there is a second book in the series: Unleashed) that underscores just how little privacy and control individuals have when corporations infiltrate our daily lives.
Though its themes are heavy, there is fun and humor in the book as well: Lacey’s unpredictable baku Jinx is always ready with a sassy comeback, and it’s a joy to see Lacey revel in her own technological wizardry and be recognized by others as a rising STEM star. The plot moves quickly, and though I didn’t love it like I do His Dark Materials, I’m eager to read the next book to find out what happens with Lacey and Jinx.
Bring tissues. I give this book 4 out of 5 coffins.