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Five robots. One unforgettable journey. Their programming will never be the same.

Cog looks like a normal twelve-year-old boy. But his name is short for “cognitive development,” and he was built to learn.

But after an accident leaves him damaged, Cog wakes up in an unknown lab—and Gina, the scientist who created and cared for him, is nowhere to be found. Surrounded by scientists who want to study him and remove his brain, Cog recruits four robot accomplices for a mission to find her.

Cog, ADA, Proto, Trashbot, and Car’s journey will likely involve much cognitive development in the form of mistakes, but Cog is willing to risk everything to find his way back to Gina.

208 pages, Hardcover

First published October 1, 2019

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About the author

Greg Van Eekhout

56 books362 followers
Greg van Eekhout writes books. Some are for kids, some are for adults. He lives in San Diego.

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5 stars
313 (37%)
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350 (42%)
3 stars
136 (16%)
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19 (2%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 178 reviews
Profile Image for The Artisan Geek.
445 reviews7,263 followers
March 24, 2020

I read this one, because it's a Nebula award finalist for the MG and YA category, and it was so good! Wow! The characters are so cute and funny, it's hard not to root for them :) We get to experience first-hand how the main character Cog, learns (the at times tough) lessons of life . Van Eekhout managed to so deftly weave those into the narrative, whilst still providing a thoroughly entertaining story centred around artificial intelligence and our future with it. Honestly this would be perfect for any kid :)

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Profile Image for David.
Author 103 books88 followers
March 16, 2020
Story of a boy named Cog who also happens to be an advanced robot. When he's damaged after trying to save a dog, he's separated from Gina, the woman who built him and who is helping him learn about the world. He finds himself in the corporate headquarters of the company who funded his development and finds they may not have the best motives for building intelligent automata. Aided by other robots, he goes on a cross country quest for Gina. It's great fun to watch Cog learn about the world and about his own feelings.
Profile Image for Saralyn.
24 reviews
April 7, 2022
Sweet middle grade book about a kid robot. It’s one of those stories that makes you think about what it means to be alive. The writing style got a bit annoying to me because it is from the perspective of someone brand new to the world and so they explain everything in a silly way. Overall it was creative and had a good message.
Profile Image for Adelina.
254 reviews6 followers
May 30, 2020
I don’t know even know where to start. I’m cheesing over this book so much!
I bought it for my nephew on a whim one day - hoping that it would be an at least ok book. Well after he finished it, he gave it back and said I HAD to read it.
So I gathered my little ones around, and we read. My kids who don’t enjoy family book night we’re rolling on the floor laughing. They picked up new words and are using them in normal every day sentences. They are letting the characters inspire their artwork.
I love reading. I can’t get enough it. But it has been a long time since I’ve read something so incredibly good.
To top it all off though - this book isn’t just a humorous piece of fiction. It has a life lesson we could all learn. The overarching theme of belonging, free will, and learning from our mistakes has set this book easily as my number 1 read of 2020.

Now excuse me while I go enjoy a cup of hot cocoa and a plate of cheese.
Profile Image for Skye Walker.
40 reviews2 followers
May 25, 2020
Cog, a nominee for the Andre Norton Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction (awarded with the Nebula awards), is the story of a robot who was built to learn. Mentally and, by all appearances, the titular character (Cog) is a 12-year-old boy whose function is to be a learning artificial intelligence. When he discovers that the best way to learn is to make mistakes, he resolves to make lots of mistakes — a decision which kicks off the narrative arc of the story.

Cog has an underdog main character, key themes of friendship and found family, and a quick pace. These middle grade/young adult mainstay themes make the more experimental parts of the narrative stand out, but not in a good way. The first plot point that gave me pause occurred early in the story, when Cog was taken to a grocery store for the first time and he has what is essentially an anxiety or panic attack. As he assesses the situation and his reaction, he calms himself down and expresses his discomfort with the situation to his adult parental figure and creator, Gina. Even though Cog communicates his feelings to Gina, she not only ignores his discomfort, but also sets him on a difficult task and then treats him coldly when he returns and until they leave the grocery store. This interaction told me as a reader that we have a main character who is coded as neurodivergent with a parental figure who dismisses him. This introduction to the world and its characters made me wonder how the author was going to engage with these complex themes with sensitivity in the book, and I was disappointed to find that the author does not do so.

. This brings me to my next issue with the story, specifically around the bodily autonomy of the child protagonist and how it is treated in the book.

A recurring device I was surprised to see in a book that lands on both middle grade and YA shelves was body horror. As the main character (and many of the characters in the book) are robots, there is an argument to be made that what happens to them cannot be called body horror because they are not flesh-and-blood beings. However, given that this is a book for children and young people, the robot characters are extremely empathetic and, by and large, act like regular human beings. So, when a character’s fingernails are described in detail as being ‘lifted so that the character can be plugged in for diagnostics’, it’s uncomfortable to read. Unfortunately, it only gets worse as things happen to characters against their wills (like, for instance, having their skulls opened to remove their brains) and their bodily autonomy is violated. Like real children, the robot children in Cog have very little recourse for asserting their body autonomy against their caregivers, and this makes Cog seem like a bizarre horror story aimed at children. It’s a stark, uncomfortable reality being reflected, and it made me wonder how the author would meaningfully communicate to young readers that their bodily autonomy matters, and if someone were to cross a line, they would be in the wrong. The answer was that Van Eekhout didn’t. Neither the body horror nor the control over Cog’s body were confronted: consent is a critical subject for the intended audience, and though this book approaches it from multiple angles, it never adequately treats it with the clarity and gravity it deserves.

There was another crucial aspect that never saw any real development: specifically, Cog is depicted as having panic attacks and generally being an anxious kid. There are multiple scenes in the story where he feels he must act quickly and decisively but is unable to do so because he is afraid. This fear not only affects him in life-or-death situations, like when attack drones are chasing Cog and his friends, but also in the earlier scene at the grocery store. Through the narrative, Cog is depicted as being overwhelmed by certain stimuli and feeling intense trepidation when he thinks someone else is counting on him: in short, he is depicted as having an anxiety disorder. In moments where he has a panic attack and someone else jumps in to take control of the situation, Cog comes away with a kind of ‘friendship-is-magic’ lesson and no one ever checks in on him or acknowledges that he was in distress. While having friends that can help ease stressful situations is a good thing, the takeaway side-steps the core issue here: the main character is coded as having untreated anxiety and no one is talking about it or supporting him through something that can be terrifying to live with on your own.

Very early in the story, I thought that it was going to be revealed that Cog is not actually a robot but a young boy with autism expressing himself through a make-believe that protects him from the world by supposing that he is a near-invincible robot. Because the book is told from a first-person perspective, my experience of Cog was as character who is coded as a normal kid who is autistic. It’s the body horror that made it clear that he is, in fact, a robot. To be blunt, I don’t think the world needs another depiction of autism as if it’s the way robots work and not the lived reality of actual human beings. This cliché narrative around autistic people being robotic is only worsened by depictions like this one, showing a machine, rather than a child, with thought processes and confusions and feelings that align with how many autistic people think and feel.

As expected from a book that lands on the middle grade shelf, Cog has a happy ending: unfortunately, I don’t think it stuck the landing. As I’ve alluded to, the end of the story does little to assuage any of my problems with the story, and it honestly left me more incredulous than satisfied. I had been holding out hope that some important conversation would happen between Gina and Cog, but no such conversation happens, leaving those troubling threads and themes to stand on their own.

In the end, I can’t recommend this book. It has elements that are really lovely — the found family aspect had a good arc, and the technological aspect goes to some interesting places, especially towards the end. For me, all of that was overshadowed by the important and sometimes fraught conversations that were left hanging, or worse, never commented upon at all. Cog’s narrative arc and tidy ending leave much to be desired.

This review first appeared at Fantasy Literature.
Profile Image for Kylie.
832 reviews20 followers
March 29, 2020
4.5 stars
This book was so cute! I wasn't sure if I would like it at the beginning.
I absolutely loved the characters. They were all so dynamic and fun. I loved the little lessons snuck in there that a robot would want to or feel like it had to explain.
There was a lot of humor in it and I found myself laughing out loud several times.
As an adult, I still really enjoyed this middle grade book, so if you are an adult looking for something quick and fun, this is the book for you!
Profile Image for BookishStitcher.
1,156 reviews44 followers
July 30, 2020
3.5 stars

This book was a surprise to me because it packed a lot of philosophical ideas into such a small kids book.
Profile Image for Jenna (Falling Letters).
658 reviews58 followers
April 12, 2020
Review originally published 12 April 2020 at Falling Letters..

I realize now that I didn’t take enough notes while reading to give Cog the review it deserves. I do recall my initial impression: a surprisingly strong and nuanced read, for such an unassuming little book. I was very glad it wasn’t 400+ pages.

Cog is a lovely story with great pacing. The personalities of each robot is clearly differentiated. They contribute to moving the story forward in a meaningful way. Cog’s unique narrative voice is one of the book’s best assets. I laughed out loud at many of his comments, especially about what he’s learning. I kept reading because I wanted to find out what happened to Gina and how Cog would get away from uniMIND.

The straightforward entertainment of the robots’ interactions and the getaway plot would be enough to make this a fun read. There’s a good mix of levity and gravity. van Eekhout further strengthens the story by exploring artificial intelligence, free will, and personal agency. Cog offers plenty to reflect on without being too preachy or allegorical.

This book was a Cybils 2019 finalist. It’s also nominated for the 2019 Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction.

The Bottom Line: Coming in under 200 pages, Cog still packs in all the elements for a great middle grade read. (Not just for scifi fans!)
Profile Image for P.M..
1,271 reviews
December 28, 2019
Simply put - I loved it just as much as I loved "Voyage of the Dogs." Cog is a 7 month old, 12 year old android whose sole purpose is to learn. When he is abducted by uniMind which wants to harvest his X-module, Cog plots an escape to find Gina, his caretaker. Aided by his sister. ADA, Proto, Trashbot, and Car, he sets off across country to find Gina. This reminded me a lot of "The Wild Robot" with a hero who was both more human and humane than the real humans. It was a good way to spend a snow day.
Profile Image for Lydia Liuba.
16 reviews7 followers
August 16, 2020
I was looking for a cute middle grade audiobook to listen to in bed before falling asleep. I did not expect this to turn as dark as it did, but I did end up being so invested in the plot that I finished listening to it this morning.

The story follows Cog, a 12 year old boy for all intents and purposes - except for the fact that he is really a 7 month old robot build for learning. He lives with Gina, his creator and caregiver, until one day after an accident, he finds himself in the corporation where he has been built with Gina having been transferred to a different facility far away.
So begins Cog's journey to find Gina and return home with her. Along the way, he finds new friends and an incredible power within himself.

I really enjoyed the road trip portion of the story, it was a fun and action-filled adventure with very likeable characters. The writing style took some getting used to but it really helped to get inside Cog's head and understand his thought processes. Towards the end, it turned a bit more into a sci-fi thriller than a fun adventure and I have to say, I was not prepared for a book like this to deal with themes such as bodily autonomy, the dangers and opportunities of AI, and what it means to be human.
Overall a very interesting read and probably a good way for kids to be introduced to these subjects. Although it might not be suitable for younger children because it does contain some violence and scary scenes.

Now, Cog (and possibly Ada) is pretty clearly coded as being autistic and experiences what seems to be sensory overload and/or anxiety attacks throughout the story and I'm aware that some people weren't happy with how this was handeled. In my opinion, however, this was done rather well because even if Cog is a robot, he is far from the "cold and unfeeling machine" autistic people are unfortunately often portrayed as. That being said, this is just from my limited point of view, so if I were to find out about people with autism who felt uncomfortable with this representation, I'd absolutely lower my rating.
Profile Image for Sam (she_who_reads_).
669 reviews16 followers
November 19, 2019
A super fast paced story, full of fun, action, and adventure. I’m sure middle grade readers will have a blast with this one!
Profile Image for Nicole M. M..
Author 1 book290 followers
September 23, 2020
This book is wonderful because of its incredibly unique middle-grade voice. The MC is a robot boy, and his perspective on the world is humorous and sometimes incredibly insightful. The story focused on friendship and the concept of free will (in a way that middle graders will relate to). It would be perfect for the slightly younger MG crowd since it’s a little lighter fare than the current MG trend (and also shorter), but that didn’t prevent it from having some impactful messages. I found this to be a delightful read!
Profile Image for Renee Priddis.
167 reviews1 follower
April 29, 2020
Read aloud to the kids. Hilarious and enjoyed reading it nightly to the kids.
Profile Image for Christina Pilkington.
1,536 reviews164 followers
May 13, 2020

Until I saw it listed on this year’s Nebula shortlist, I had never heard of this book. But I’m so glad it was on the list because it was so cute!

Cute yet surprisingly deep at the same time. It was an AI, found family, road trip mission, high-stakes escape novel exploring the ideas of free will and choice, individual purpose and corporate greed.

At the beginning of the novel we meet Cog, short for cognitive development- a robot who was designed to learn. He’s happily living with his creator when he winds up getting hit by a truck while in the process of learning, and finds himself inside a company called uniMIND.

Cog learns the company is working on something dangerous and secretive. He also meets Trashbot, who just wants to rid the world of trash; Proto, a rambunctious robot dog; Car, a smart car with a voice of its own; and ADA, Cog’s sister who considers herself a weapon. They work together to find Cog’s original creator, Gina. Cog also has a secret ability of his own and learns more about its importance as the story unfolds.

There are moments of action scatted between quieter moments where Cog gradually learns that it's through making mistakes and having a variety of different experiences that we grow. The writing style is very simplistic with short, declarative sentences, but it’s a smart choice in creating the perfect robot-sounding voice for Cog. It also has some great laugh out loud moments, too!

I wound up reading this aloud to my 14 year olds and they really enjoyed it. It’s perfect for readers who enjoy middle grade, sci-fi, and questions of free will and choice.
Profile Image for Tamara Evans.
844 reviews36 followers
February 2, 2020
This is engaging, fast paced story about a robot and his mission to return to his human guardian. Cog Isa seven month old robot designed to look like a twelve year old boy. He lives with uniMind engineer Gina and spends his days learning new things.

Cog’s sole mission is learning new things and sharing the things he learns with others. As Cog is increasing his list of life experiences one day, when he attempts to save a dog from being killed by a truck, he is kidnapped by a greedy uniMind executive named Nathan and is taken to the uniMind lab.

During Cog’s time at the unlMind headquarters, he discovers that he contains a special component and that Nathan plans to remove his brain in order to retrieve it and use it to impact all uniMind robots.

Cog desperately want to find Gina and as such, he finds three robot allies at uniMind to help him accomplish his mission. As he and the other robots work together, Cog discovers new things about himself as well as the other robots.

I liked this book in that the author’s writing style has an easy flow. Each of the character are well written and the storyline is interesting and draws the reader in so that by the end of the book, they genuinely care about the fate of Cog and the other robots.
Profile Image for Diana.
439 reviews20 followers
October 17, 2021
Okay first, Greg Van Eekhout is an amazing human and I adore him. Mainly because you may recall that Kid Younger and I read his Voyage of the Dogs together, and that it made such an impact on my child that she insisted on cosplaying as Champion (the lead dog in the story) for Halloween that year. We sent some fanmail to him about it, and he was so excited in his response, that my kid was over the MOON for weeks about it. In his recent virtual signing at my local friendly indie bookstore, Mysterious Galaxy, I requested that my books be signed to my kid, and he DREW A CHAMPION UNDER HIS SIGNATURE FOR HER COPY OF COG. Needless to say, she quite literally screamed and fell over when she saw it. What a guy, my dudes. This child is SO STOKED. Anyway. Thank you, Greg, and we'll be loyal fans for pretty much ever at this point.

Then I stole it and read it first, HA. *cough* I mean, I read it while she was busy with her grandparents, and it wasn't nefarious at all. But! Now I kinda wish we'd read it together. It's less gut-wrenching than Voyage of the Dogs, so I'm not worried :D but it's just so sweetly put together, and such a fantastic little story about robots and roboticists (and a primer on robot autonomy and the rights of sentient beings), and I'm glad to have it. Recommended for your own little robots, but make sure to read over their shoulders, as you too will find it extremely charming.
Profile Image for Bruce.
484 reviews9 followers
November 3, 2019
This is a "YA" book. Despite that, as an adult, I really enjoyed reading it.

Gina builds and programs robots. She's good at what she does. She works for uniMIND, one of the premier robotic companies.

ADA was her first robot but uniMIND took her away to weaponize her.

Then she built Cog (short for "cognitive development") a robot (or biomaton) who is designed to learn from good and bad experiences (with Gina at his side).

When uniMIND discovers Cog. They move Gina to another distant lab and they take Cog back to their laboratory to remove his brain for study. If you're like me, you'd resist such an idea. He, along with Trashbot, Proto, ADA, and Car, escape and try to find Gina.

Meanwhile, Gina has become an unwilling uniMIND experiment at the remote lab where she's been taken.

It's a good story that doesn't lose momentum and the technology is reasonable. I do wonder where Car's brain was stored.
Profile Image for Beth Cato.
Author 114 books563 followers
March 19, 2020
I read this as part of my Norton finalist packet.

Cog is a middle grade science fiction novel packed full of heart. Cog is a robot boy with a love of learning. He can tell you everything you'd ever want to know about cheese and platypuses. He's happy living in a house and learning from his caregiver, Gina. But after he dives into traffic to save a dog, he awakens patched-up in the main facility of his corporate maker. Not only is Gina gone, but the other scientists aren't so nice. The solution: bust out (with some friends) and find Gina!

The core of the book gave me solid 1980s movie road trip vibes a la Flight of the Navigator and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. It's laugh-out-loud funny at several points as the robot boy and his motley crew learn a lot about themselves, the company that made them, and their own power to make choices. Plus, it features the best talking car since Knight Rider. This is a book that parents and grandparents will enjoy as much as the kids.
Profile Image for Geoffreyjen.
Author 1 book16 followers
February 19, 2022
There are occasionally books that you run across that are so special you go to sleep at night feeling the world has grown larger because of them. This is one of those books. It is simply written with evocative language and many touches of humour, of the kind that also makes one feel bigger. It is written for what is called Middle Grade, that is, preteens, but like all good writing it may appeal to readers of all ages. Understand, this is not the deepest, most compelling story you'll ever read. In fact, it's rather light in some ways, although there is plenty of action to carry the story forward in ways that make sense, and there are also some important things that are said within its pages. But what this books does, is that it remains with you after you have read it. I also think it is a story that will appeal to the middle graders for whom it is clearly designed, with a lot of playful storytelling that I'm sure will appeal. But this 65-year-old also loved it. Recommended.
Profile Image for Abbie.
1,452 reviews9 followers
September 18, 2020
This novel by Greg Van Eekhout surprised me with its humor and heart. Cog and his robotic friends are endearing characters, and the questions about free will and cruelty to those with less power will stay with readers after the last page. Recommended.

Read more at Bookish Adventures.
Profile Image for Jason Lundberg.
Author 71 books155 followers
July 7, 2021
I picked up this book at the library for my 11-year-old daughter because Greg is a friend and my daughter likes robotics. She inhaled the novel in a day and a half, telling me how much she loved it, and especially the little robodog Proto (rarf!). It took me a few days longer than her, but I also loved this to pieces. Absolutely wonderful.
Profile Image for Dianna.
1,876 reviews34 followers
July 20, 2021
Really cute book about a robot boy. Fans of Data or Wall-E must read this book. Lots of funny bits. Minus a star for the unnecessary flatulence talk (even if it is in robot words). I'm sure some will consider this a bonus, but it's not my favorite.
Profile Image for Manon.
1,542 reviews28 followers
October 27, 2019
This wasn't really for me. The message was a good one, though.
Profile Image for Leah (Jane Speare).
1,421 reviews427 followers
May 20, 2020
Beautiful middle grade novel about empathy and learning that I will be putting into every possible kid’s hands.
Profile Image for Alicia.
68 reviews
October 12, 2021
This book made my kids laugh so hard. I read it aloud and we got through it in record time because everyone wanted to know what was going to happen next.
Profile Image for Austin.
72 reviews2 followers
December 14, 2019
This is the most heartwarming book I have read in my entire life. Game over. Heart is warmed. Possibly overheating. Just amazing.

Cog is a 7 month old robot that looks like a 12 year old boy and in conjunction with his (kind of) sister, a robot dog, and a smart car he's going on an adventure to make sure the scientist who has been raising him is not sad. Along the way, there's a lot of discussion about free will and choosing to be better people (or droids, or whatever). There are also a lot of Lemony Snicket style interludes on different words as Cog learns about them, which was just positively charming. This is a great book about empathy and choice perfect for late elementary/early middle school kids who feel like an outsider or who struggle to interact with people because they will very much see themselves in Cog and ADA. In fact, as an adult who often struggles with human interaction, I also related to those characters.

A great book for a younger reader interested in science fiction and robots - I would recommend it alongside the Asimovs' series for children.
Profile Image for Katrina Tangen.
Author 2 books25 followers
March 1, 2020
Sooo good! If you like the movie Short Circuit, you’ll love this. Super funny, exciting, heartwarming, and even a lot of deep thoughts about free will and what makes people human, if you like that kind of thing. :)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 178 reviews

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