Averil Offline

Averil Offline
Age Range
Release Date
February 13, 2024
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Twelve-year-old coder Averil can't do anything without her parents knowing. That’s because her mom uses the Ruby Slippers surveillance app to check where she is, who she texts, and even what she eats for lunch. Averil wonders how she’s ever going to grow up if she’s not allowed to learn from mistakes. When she learns that Ruby Slippers is about to become even more invasive, she teams up with Max, a new kid at school dealing with overbearing parents of his own. Together they figure out an almost foolproof way to ditch their parents and run away to the college campus that’s home to the quirky Ruby Slippers creator. It’s an extreme challenge just getting to meet with him—but the two kids cleverly figure out a series of puzzles and get their meeting. What they find gives them pause—and gets them thinking about the value of honesty in a new light. After all, isn’t trust at the heart of their parents' need to know?

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Averil and her sister Delia cope with their parents' overprotective habits in very different ways. While Delia (who is in high school) often ignores their requests and fights with them, Averil just wants it to be quiet and conflict free in her world, so she just puts up with it. Both girls were born very prematurely, and almost died, so Averil understands her mother's actions even as they irritate her. The worst offender is the Ruby Slippers app which tracks everything Averil does with her phone and reports it to her mother. If she takes to long to walk home from school, or if she doesn't answer her mother's text soon enough, her mother panics, and sometimes an alarm goes off! Both Averil and her best friend Priya are interested in coding, and Averil loves when the coding of a program is nice and clean and works properly. The two are in a coding class with few girls, and a teacher who seems enamored of the speed of a Steve Jobs wannabe even when Averil's coding is much better. When new student and Rich kid Max approaches her in class and wants to meet after school for ice cream to talk about changes that the company is going to make to Ruby Slippers, Averil gives Priya her phone so she can have a moment to herself. Max, whose father is a tech entrepreneur, outlines the strategies of Rider Woolyback, the creator of the app, which has been sold to a larger company. Although reclusive, he had at one point issued a statement saying that if the app hurt children, he would work to change it. Since his office is in a secret location at nearby Clarion College, Max has a plan. He and Averil, along with Priya, are supposed to go to a coding camp over spring break. He wants Averil to not go, but to spend three days hanging around the campus, trying to talk to Woolyback, who makes people jump through hoops like chess games and puzzles before meeting. Averil doesn't want to rock the boat and says no... until she catches her mother reading a notebook she promised NOT to read. Before she knows it, Max's parents are asking her parents around to dinner at their posh house, and Max's driver is dropping them off on the Clarion campus to get the bus to camp. Max has called the camp about their absences, provided proper documentation of strep through, and Priya and Max's friend have the runaway duo's phones so their parents think they are at camp. Priya is even prepared to answer texts and send photos of "Averil's" healthy meals! Running away is a little rocky, but the two do really well, finding a place to sleep in the college library and even brushing their teeth! Averila even makes sure to get vegetables and fruit at all their meals. They find Woolyback's office, but have to answer a question about the most expensive hyphen mistake... without their phones! Their research skills rule, and they are granted admission. Talking to Woolyback's assistant, Loriel Cady Krowb, the only help they get is that she will forward the message. But what's really going on? There's a bigger mystery behing the Ruby Slipper app, and the two are determined to find it, even after running into Delia. How will Averil and Max find a way to get the freedom to make their own mistakes?

Good Points
It's always good to read about kids doing things. Not only that, but kids doing things that they are not supposed to do is especially appealing. Averil has good reasons for her "misbehavior". Didn't we all have moments in middle school when we were irritated with our parents and wanted to run away from home? Max has made excellent plans, and asks Averil because he admires her ability and intelligence. Do the two have a tiny crush on each other? Perhaps, but it's based on mutual respect and confined to actions like holding on to the other's hair ribbon or hoodie, so very much like the great relationship in Heldring's The Football Girl. I'm not a fan of puzzles, but even I was intrigued by the questions, as well as how they solved several of the problems. There's a good mix between the nitty gritty of running away and the philosophical focus on women in computer fields. Plus, this was just FUN! I especially liked how Delia and Averil ended up getting their parents to see their point of view. For kids to be okay with giving up their phones and being grounded until the parents quit relying on the Ruby Slippers app, and to not fight or argue but to be steadfast in their determination was brilliant. There was so much to love about this title by the author of The Summer of Brave.

We are starting to see more middle grade novels involving technology, and it's time. Might they be dated in ten years when we all have cell phones imbedded in our brains? Possibly. Max is my new book crush, and his relationship with Averil is very sweet. This is a book that parents and teachers should read right along with children. I very much enjoyed this, since it had a good mix of societal messages, adventures, and great characters.
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