By Awnali Mills
In the future, Chicago is not a safe place for fraternal twins Vick and Tara. Abandoned by their father, the twins started living on the roof of an abandoned building after their mother died. They are just trying to stay alive by finding trashed items that autistic mechanical genius Tara can fix and Vick can sell. Vick is the scrounger, but Tara can design and build anything. When she finds a discarded computer chip that turns her little robot dog into a clever protector, the two get on the bad side of the local warlord, Ms. Alba. She will stop at nothing to get that chip, including killing Vick and Tara.
Watchdog has a clever premise. I loved that Tara was the brilliant one, but I don’t know how accurately McIntosh portrayed her autism (This is my ignorance. Each child is unique, but Tara seems pretty high functioning and social compared to the autism I am familiar with. Can an autistic person just “put off” their meltdowns? Tara can.)
Kids probably won’t mind that McIntosh skips over mechanical details, but it pushed the limits of my credulity that the gang of kids Vick and Tara fall in with can just produce highly functioning robots with a few spare parts. I’ve tried to assemble things before. Given, I’m not a mechanical genius, but it’s pretty difficult to put together things that are built to fit, much less assemble a bunch of disparate parts into technologically advanced soldier robots.
I also thought the ending was pretty abrupt, and didn’t bring me any closure for their situation. It was…hard to swallow.
The story is very fast paced, which adventure lovers will enjoy, and kids who enjoy mechanical things might be willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story. And, as I mentioned, it’s good to have another portrayal of a special needs kid in a primary role. Be aware that there is a total lack of helpful or caring adults in the book—they’re all bad guys. Recommended for grades 3-5.