It started with the birds. They had always been skittish when the robot was near. They would stare and screech and then scatter. But now that Roz was camouflaged, she could secretly observe their normal behavior, right up close (p 46).
When a cargo ship sinks, a box of robots is washed ashore on a remote island. A playful group of otters unwrap and accidentally activate the one undamaged ROZZUM unit and our story begins.
Designed for use in human society, Roz must observe, learn and adapt to the wild environment if it is going to survive. Dangers include rocky terrain, drenching downpours, threatening animals, and isolation. By camouflaging itself, Roz is able to learn the language of various animals, study their patterns and needs, and eventually, to assist them (and be assisted) in survival.
Eventually, the outside world comes looking for Roz with an unnatural violence that jolts when juxtaposed to the natural violence of survival. But Roz, though lacking emotions, leaves the reader full to the brim with them.
I was most impressed with the mater-of-fact but gentle ways Brown handled the realities of nature. For example, Roz constructs a lodge, called the Nest, where all animals find safe haven during a particularly harsh winter.
Thanks to Roz’s truce, life inside the Nest was mostly harmonious. But when the animals went outside, it was business as usual. Sometimes a lodger wouldn’t return. Sometimes a lodger would return in the belly of another lodger.
Kirkus’s calls it “thought-provoking and charming,” giving it a starred review.
School Library Journal awards it a star as well. “Grounded in striking, eye-catching compositions, [Brown’s] artwork combines geometric shapes and organic forms and textures, providing context and building atmosphere. The open ending leaves readers bereft for Roz and her beloved island, though it is sure to spark discussions about environmental impact and responsibility.”