Book Review: Willful Machines


photo by Haley Grimes

Willful Machines was published in 2017 by First Scholastic printing.

Willful Machines is a near future dystopian type novel. Scientists have created an artificial intelligence, or a “2B,” named Charlotte. Everything goes well until Charlotte escapes, transferring her consciousness to the internet, and starts to terrorize the American public.
Lee Fisher, the closeted son of the U.S. president, has bigger problems than an A.I. terrorist, like keeping his bodyguard, and the country, from discovering his crush on Nico, the new boy at school. In addition, keeping Nico from finding out about his recent suicide attempt, and keeping himself from losing it over all his secrets.
In the beginning, Lee starts out as a shy, reserved kid. Nico comes along and helps build Lee up and pull him out of his shell. He shows Lee there’s more to life than being the president’s son. Lee and Nico grow close, with Nico helping Lee be the best him, and vice versa.
Throughout the book, Tim Floreen explores the questions of what it really means to be alive, and what makes life worth living. Late into chapter 18, we discover Nico is a 2B. The name “2B” comes from the famous shakespearean line “to be or not to be.” In this case, the question is translated as what it means to be alive, and if that privilege is extended to A.I.’s.
Lees’ discovery leaves him angry and confused. It’s bad enough he’s gay, but now he’s found himself falling in love with A.I., going against all of his fathers morals, not to mention his entire campaign. Floreen really portrays what it’s like to be a closted kid in a place where you aren’t accepted.
Lee is afraid his family won’t care about him anymore, and that he’ll ruin his father’s image if he’s true to himself. His previous suicide attempt already damaged his relationship with his father, and his campaign. He’s trapped with nowhere to turn.
Ultimately, Floreen explores the struggles of being closeted and unaccepted, being suicidal, and learning how to be brave. Willful Machines explores tough topics that are seldom talked about, let alone written. Floreens’ take, I believe, accurately portrays the feelings that come with these struggles, and ways to deal with and overcome them. I think his book speaks to LGBT youth, and to the struggling teen overall.
To me, his main message is that there is no one set box to be checked\; that everyone is different in their own ways, and there is nothing wrong with that. The expectations of others do not have to define you, and that you have the power to be whoever you want.