When I was asked to review a book for the middle-grade age group, I was hesitant because I hadn’t read anything geared toward eighth graders since before I was in eighth grade myself (except for my rereads of Harry Potter). N. Scott Steadman’s world created in Mouse was being compared to Hogwarts, but with a STEM twist (and with a little girl at the helm, at that!)—and that was all I needed to know before diving in head first.
Twelve-year-old Mouse Gamma has spent her entire life struggling to communicate. She’s never understood how to stop the bullies and negligent foster parents without causing more trouble than it’s worth. That is until she discovers the magic of code—a language that’s more powerful than anything she’s ever imagined.
To everyone’s surprise, Mouse is anonymously chosen to attend the prestigious Rickum Academy—an incubator for the brightest and most promising young minds in tech. Her excitement is short-lived as the mystery of how she ended up at Rickum very quickly unravels around her, threatening the safety of her new life and the innocent lives of those around her. With the help of her new friends, Ada and Boone, Mouse is in a race against her classmates, her teachers, and the most powerful man in tech to not only uncover the truth about who she is, but who she is not.
Stedman’s inspiration for writing Mouse was his thirteen-year-old daughter. “As my daughter got older and began reading the stories I’d loved as a kid, I’d found that some of the things I’d felt were so disheartening were still embedded in the framework of the fantasy genre,” he shares. “I felt that code not only released the genre from the dated ‘aristocracy’ of sorcerers but also gave my daughter an inspiring role model who was passionate about STEM, a real-life field she could pursue. I wanted her to have a character she could relate to who used tech in magical ways to give herself agency and strength in a world that was loaded against her.”
Now, I will admit that I read that blurb before I read the book, so I was already invested because I want my kid(s) to know that they can be whatever they want to be and live in a magical world without needing to be any more special than anyone else. But this really did have a Harry Potter-type feel, but much more realistic because coding is, you know, real. I was surprised at how invested I got and how quickly I wanted to know everything and anything about this world. And I know absolutely nothing about coding—that didn’t matter.
Mouse is a strange name for a main character—there’s no way to get around it. And though I probably would have preferred if she had another name (even if Mouse was a nickname!), it wasn’t as weird to continue reading after a few chapters. I like that she has an attitude and is untrustworthy and short-tempered…all of the characteristics a child with a rough upbringing would undoubtedly have. I’m not sure how actual middle graders could relate to her, having not been one for a very long time, but between her group of friends, there are bits and pieces of each one that kids can look up to. Ada, her roommate, was by far my favourite. I loved her.
If I have to give it one critique, I thought some of the language might be a little bit difficult to understand for someone in elementary school. Not so much the coding part, because that didn’t usually get into too much detail, but just the vocabulary used and the amount of description that happened. If I compared it to Harry Potter (at least the first one), I think it would be more challenging to read. But despite that, I think the story was very well thought out with enough red herrings to not make the plot obvious. It kept me guessing the whole way through, and everything came together very nicely in the end.
I really, really loved Mouse and hope Stedman gets enough traction to be able to do a sequel. I would love to see what other adventures Mouse and her friends get up to over her time at Rickum.
“There aren’t many coders like that, not that I’ve ever met. You just might find that the mouse is really a lion, and even worse, that the lion has your head in her mouth.” —N. Scott Stedman, Mouse
Thank you to Smith Publicity, Inc. for the advanced copy and Joan Gamell for the featured photo.