review: Maya and the Robot

title: May and the Robot
author: Eve L. Ewing
illustrator: Christine Almeda
date: Kokila, 2021
main character: Patricia Maya Robinson
African American MG realistic fiction

Dr. Eve L. Ewing is a sociologist of education, scholar, educator, poet and author from Chicago. Her research centers on racism, social inequality and urban policy and the impact these forces have on public schools and the lives of our young people. Such a prolific background provides Ewing with skills necessary to create a story that embeds messages based in inequality that doesn’t remind readers to pull out their checklist to be sure all the aggressions and oppressions are present and accounted for. She doesn’t write an issue book that allows Black girls to succeed in STEM. Patricia Maya Robinson is just living her best life.

As this story begins, Ewing is developing Maya’s personality through her interactions with her closest friends, Jada and MJ. It’s the first day of school and they’re about to find out that for the first time ever, they’re going to be in separate classrooms. Well, actually it’s Maya who will not be with Jada and MJ. She’ll have to navigate a teacher she only knows by reputation and, it’s not a good one.

Things at home are good for Maya, though. She lives with her mom, dad, and little brother. Both of her parents work (mom has 2 jobs). The family is economically stable and is situated in the ethnically diverse neighborhood that they’ve always lived in.

Maya relates to Mr. Mac, owner of the neighborhood convenience store, that her new school year isn’t going so well. He ends up gifting her with Ralph, a robot that his son, Christopher, built. From there, Maya tries to figure out how to program Ralph, who her friends are, and what to research for the upcoming science fair.

The story is as easy to believe as it is to follow. Maya navigates Ralph’s intricate (to me) technology with ease, giving readers confidence in a Black girl’s ability to manipulate new technologies. Rather than wanting to commodify Ralph’s abilities, Maya uses them to do good work for others just as Christopher did. I have such an appreciation for stories that don’t reinforce our consumerism! Christina Alameda’s illustrations further engage readers by bringing life to the story’s characters and situations.

Even with some sadness and some bullying, Ewing develops a strong cast of characters in a very sweet story.

Maya and the Robot is also a story of gun violence. Ewing is quite responsible in how this is handled in the book. The tragedy is foreshadowed, and the information is presented with care, knowing that the audience is composed of young readers. Add this to your list of books for young people trying to cope today who need to know there is no way to understand this nonsense, but there are ways to carry on if we do so with care and empathy. Maya’s community is a model of compassion.