Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Review: An Audience for Einstein

Rooted in a strong morality tale, Mark Wakely's An Audience for Einstein represents a great introduction into science fiction--especially for teens.

While the writing feels stiff and unpolished in some places, and characters narrate life a little too much for my taste, the novel speculates what if we could save the memories and knowledge of one dying person at the expense of the future of another (in this case, an eleven-year old)?

Professor Dorning creates a method to extract the knowledge from the brain of one of the world's leading scientists, Percival Marlowe, and plants it inside the brain of a impoverished adolescent, Miguel Sanchez.  Dorning lies, hides all of the facts, and manipulates two lives because he judges Marlowe's life as more valuable than Miguel's.

Miguel was only a poor Hispanic who didn't go to school--what was the value of his life?  He panhandled with other teens while his mother struggled in rehab--what was the value of his life?

There are a couple of encounters that feel like loose ends:

a. a doctor in a hospital suspects Miguel might be in danger with Dorning, but never follows it up
b. child and youth services investigates Dorning, catches him in his lies, and he walks

Some moments feel contrived:

Flat characters ring of uninteresting stereotypes:

a. Miguel's panhandling friends
b. two rookie police officers laugh and mock the maid who reports the suspected child abuse

Beyond the lack of warmth, choppy writing, and minor flaws in structure,  An Audience for Einstein is a good story.  Some passages even rise and capture the reader's fascination with some really fine moments:

a. the title of the novel comes when Percival Marlow, now "reborn" as the child Miguel, stumbles into an opportunity to lecture a university class for a few moments...the real professor of the class patronizes him and calls the class, "an audience for Einstein"...

b. Miguel, an underprivileged youth, playing in the ocean for the first time in his life, tumbles beneath a wave and finds himself sucked deeper out to sea--unable to swim, his life is in danger

The core of the story cycles between the awareness of Percival Marlow back and forth with the awareness of Miguel Sanchez--they share Miguel's body, but the threat looms that Marlow's brain will take over...vanquishing Miguel's brain and presence forever.  Miguel will soon be dormant, never to return.

Even though this will not be the best written book your students will read, many will enjoy the moral implications it is built upon.  An Audience for Einstein is a solid choice for any middle school classroom library.  I'm looking forward to reading some Writer's Notebook entries or student reflections once they find this book on my shelves.

artist Farley Aguilar

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