Sue Loh has created something exceptional in the Young Adult sci fi mystery category with RAVEN, a novel that delivers a racially/culturally diverse set of characters including sassy kick-ass girls who are brilliant enough at software coding and deciphering to be hired as investigators for some peculiar computer issues suddenly going on at the prominent Foster Bowman Myrle bank. Blessed with a plethora of nicknames from Scrappy to Cricket, Angel, Noob, and Whiz, sixteen-year-old Fireball is the leader of an elite Cinzento Secure Academy antivirus team; self-proclaimed as the best team in the world for putting down computer viruses and dealing with hacks. The problem is this time the anomalies they discover are able to disappear in the blink of an eye which makes what’s going on pretty darn hard to identify, never mind dismantle.
The strongest feature of this novel are the kid-savvy scenes — even ones centering around the intricacies of artificial intelligence and coding jargon — which young people along with readers of all ages will likely warmly relate to: “A kill switch?” Fireball sat up straighter in her chair. “It must have a kill switch, right?” Light bulb. “Or maybe we could add one…It eats code, Whiz. Gobbles it up and pokes at it and sifts through it and documents its bug and holes. If we could write a piece of code that short-circuited that, and get Hack to snack on it…” Whiz’s usually serious face lit up with a slow smile. “Ka-boom,” she said.
Somewhat less potent are the conversations aiming for emotional depth that don’t quite ring true: “D’you believe in God? In an afterlife?” “I did.” He shook his head. “I do. Mom and Dad would be hurt if I let this shake my faith. But it’s so hard. I’ve never been without them before, Fireball.” Will the intrepid Raven Team figure out who or what the hacker is, and what it wants? Here’s a clue: there are all kinds of tricksters afoot in this book. Ravens can be tricksters. There’s also the Norse shapeshifting trickster god, cuckoo birds that lay eggs in the nests of others and, of course, some humans have been known to be tricksters too.
It’s quite an accomplishment to make concepts such as computer software/hardware system integration, networking, interface design, and security issues riveting, but in the Young Adult novel RAVEN, author Sue Loh does precisely that.
~C.S. Holmes for IndieReader